previous projects

From a self-made to an already-made man: A historical content analysis of professional advice literature

Several scholars argue that self-expression has become a salient feature in the conception of the self at the expense of a more utilitarian perception of the individual. This article argues that this transition agrees with an evolution in how the relation between work and the self was perceived during the 20th century. A historical content analysis of advice literature on professional success shows how capitalism adapted itself to the aesthetic critique of alienation by revitalising the spirit of capitalism. The old spirit of capitalism that relied on self-control and discipline was replaced by a new spirit that emphasised well-being and self-expression as a way to motivate employees and to close the gap between work and private life. Likewise, the ideal of the self-made man who adapts himself to a job was turned into a more essentialist view of an already-made man who looks for a job that fits his personality.


Aesthetic labour, class and taste: Mobility aspirations of middle-class women working in luxury-retail

Previous research has shown how the embodied performances expected from service workers make cultural class background important for entry into these forms of jobs. However, class judgement continues to impact the worker post-entry and on-the-job. We explore this through a qualitative study of 18 middle-class women working in luxury-retail stores in Amsterdam, asking how they acquire the taste of their store for aesthetic labour. This is a case we consider pertinent given the significant class difference between these workers and their economically rich clientele. We found that: (1) workers constructed the products they sold as distinct by devaluing ‘popular’ fashion products; (2) workers managed to acquire luxury knowledge through their work practices; (3) workers purchased luxury products via employee discount, the availability of which triggered allures to emulate their upper-class customers; (4) acquiring this taste was perceived as cultural-social mobility, a perception reinforced by feelings of recognition within private consumption practices; and (5) these endeavours were often marked by both avidity and anxiety, as work concerns conflated with class concerns. We conclude by arguing that systems of classification and the labour process work in alloy, as the necessities of work drive conformity to legitimate taste and, in turn, the legitimacy of taste assists in achieving worker motivation and the extraction of labour. This, we believe, reflects potential complementarity between domination and exploitation models of class analysis.

with Bryan Boyle (Free University of Brussels)


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