Having formulated our primary line of argument in a clear, concise, though still relatively conceptual shape last week, the focus of our supervised meeting last Tuesday, and especially our research since, has shifted towards real-world phenomena and data that have the potential to draw out & reinforce the most salient discussions and processes among those discussed at every stage of our investigation so far.
We initially highlighted a number of potential systemic sources of late capitalist uncertainty, including the shifting nature of labour, the reification of familial & religious values, and falling away of political certainties. With those in mind, it became clear that our connection between employer (mis)use of wellbeing practices & technology and these uncertainties would have to be a second-order one, where workplaces are not directly responding to uncertainty but instead co-opting a consumer-driven search for self-knowledge and self-care to serve their financial goals, such as employee retention and productivity.
In order to deeply investigate these connections, and to make sure that we would be able to dedicate ourselves fully to the form and function of our final presentation during the two weeks prior, we recognised the need to make difficult decisions regarding which phenomena to hone in on at each stage of the process, and which to at most mention. For this purpose, we set the date for an additional hour-long meeting dedicated to narrowing down not only the empirical scope of our subject matter but also of our conceptual language so as to agree on exactly how we would like to pose our argument.
This task has since become significantly more feasible thanks to some of the concrete case study research that we have carried out as a collective.
The studies of Hochschild, Jacobs, and Gerson, have drawn out the ways in which for US families with children, the reification and merging of work and home through initiatives such as flexible hours and an increase in double-income couples during the 90’s has caused friction related to traditional familial role expectations and family time becoming a form of capital through scarcity. This, we found, ties into the way consumer-based or consumer-facing groups ranging from the self-help industry to mindfulness and the Quantified Self movement all put forward self-improvement as something that should be aimed for in all spaces of life.
The QS movement in particular, in which members use wearable technology or apps to track & draw empirical conclusions to increase their own wellbeing, has been defined by its co-founder as “a self-definition in an age of great uncertainty about who we are”. Despite its community-building aspect, a notable common factor with the booming billion-dollar industries of self-care and self-help is the narrative or imperative of continuous individual self-improvement. This perspective is mirrored in both UK public opinion towards the unemployed (56% believed they could find a job ‘if they wanted to’) and the way the UK government has deployed its ‘Fit to Work’ scheme (90 people per month died after being found able to work and losing their benefits), and importantly links to more conceptual theories of governmentality and responsibilisation inherent to neoliberal capitalist structures.
The existence and social importance of case studies relating processes of increased uncertainty and individual responsibility with self-focused trends for identity and wellbeing, including some that are co-opted to achieve corporate objectives, has increased group understanding, confidence, and excitement towards our research and further confirmed the objective of making good choices and focusing our argument into its final form over the coming week.
Niccoló, Caroline, Nat, Stefan