The Politics of Corporate Literature: Writing the Self in a Flexible Work Culture

By Angela Lait.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper takes literary theory into the workplace and focusses on the acculturation of employees to institutional values through an increasing volume of corporate communication. It claims the language and structures associated with the technology-accelerated pace of living and working driven by market conditions of ‘flexible accumulation’ (Harvey, The Condition of Post-Modernity, 1990) prescribe successful worker identity within a discourse reflecting values that often differ from the employees own personal ethics resulting in a negative impact on their mental health. In particular middle-class, middle-ranking, public sector professionals fail when the competing demands of an audit culture operating in a service environment places them in a position of impossible contradiction (O’Neill, Reith Lectures, 2002) and powerlessness. A study of a range of corporate and creative literature (annual reports, employee communications, business self-help manuals, the novel, craft manuals and lifestyle autobiographies) traces the sickness/recovery dialectic. In sickness, the flexibility and fragmentation required for high-turnover productivity, prevents the linear, progressive narrative of a working career (Sennett, The Corrosion of Character, 1998; The Culture of New Capitalism, 2006) and inhibits the continuity on which psychological coherence depends. A return to health is made through engagement in satisfying, creative labour using alternative language and coherent narrative that orders experience according to the regulated organic rhythms and rituals and more productive and stable relationships of traditional cultures. The autobiographical recording of these activities is thus both a form of resistance/recovery and a bid for a more secure and comfortable identity.

Keywords: Autobiography, Happiness, Identity, Narrative, Professional, Work, McEwan, New Economy, Corporate

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 7, pp.11-24. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 638.533KB).

Dr. Angela Lait

University of Manchester, Colchester, UK

Angela Lait has completed all her studying as a mature student alongside a career in journalism, corporate communications, PR, media relations and publishing for UK central government. She developed an awareness of the emerging voices of the socially marginalised from studying Literature at Essex University (1988) where she gained First-Class Honours degree. The themes of class, identity, insecurity, and lack of voice have proved to be an enduring focus, which began with a project on speech failure in The Language of the Early Plays of Harold Pinter. After a fifteen-year break she took a Masters’ degree with Distinction in Contemporary Literary Studies at Lancaster University (2005) which revived her interest in peripheral voices and culminated in a Dissertation entitled Coping with Trauma: Conflict, Character and Creativity in the Work of Pat Barker. In this she examined how language and structure disclose the challenge to hegemony posed by the marginal voice of the class-transitional character. Her doctoral thesis The Search for Solace in Late-Capitalist Literature further explored aspects of self-narration, this time in a workplace context (2008). Her academic interests have always located literature in a comparative and inter-disciplinary context.


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