Job Searching among College-educated Americans: Managing Emotion Work, Social Networks, and Middle Class Identity
KeywordsDiscourses of personality
AdvisorRoth Gordon, Jennifer F.
Zavisca, Jane R.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractIn recent years, the concept of emotion has increasingly been seen as a vital political factor shaping human subjectivity, that is, the process by which one becomes a subject. Emotion is an important component in the neoliberal economy within which well-being is seen to be best advanced by liberating entrepreneurial freedoms and by assuming the interests of workers and companies are commensurate. I approach the job-search process and (un/under)employment as focal spheres in which to examine the everyday production and upkeep of emotional management to produce an employable self. Specifically, I draw on thirteen months of fieldwork at five career development workshops in Arizona to argue that the career advice industry is urging job seeking college educated Americans to use emotional management techniques to become employable in a neoliberal economy. Increasingly precarious employment for college-educated Americans prepares the ground for job seekers to pursue help from career experts. These experts guide job seekers to do emotion work to change their thinking and behavior so that they can be employable professionals ready for the work force. This attempt to repackage and recreate a new employable self is couched in discovering one's "authentic self" discourse, bringing out existing skills, and figuring out what one enjoys doing. Career experts re-frame unemployment and underemployment as a training opportunity for job seekers to become productive people. During these workshops, experts explicitly attempt to blur the boundaries between work and non-work, as well as between social good and profit, which is consistent with the neoliberal economy where the individual is seen as a product or company to be marketed. Therefore, in a neoliberal context, achieving individual well-being involves active incorporation of the personal sphere into the business domain. In addition, a look at the class identities of college educated participants reveals that emotion, particularly a sense of economic security, is also shaping how job-seeking Americans describe their middle-class identity. I illustrate that in the face of decreasing economic opportunities and a tight labor market, very few participants have a negative view of what "middle class" means to them, nor do they describe their class status with an occupation oriented criteria. The majority of participants' descriptions of "middle class" included consumption items, while almost half of them indicated the importance of economic safety, security and the lack of anxiety for basic economic needs. Following and extending on the concept of ontological security, which refers to the constancy of social and material environments, I demonstrate that despite their precarious employment status, participants still believe in the American Dream and they articulate middle-class identity through their ability to continue consuming, even in a more modified form, which allows them to retain a sense of security. This indicates the centralization of safety and security discourses in defining an American middle-class identity.
Degree ProgramGraduate College