The Purpose Industry: The Production and Possibility of Meaningful Work in Post-Industrial Capitalism

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Lynn, Andrew, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Hunter, James, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

While work scholars have drawn attention to increasing labor instability and insecurity amidst post-industrial capitalism, a new discourse promoting intense work commitment has concurrently emerged among knowledge, creative, and managerial workers. This study maps out the growth and structure of these new cultural movements and their construction of work identities in modern settings. Across a diverse set of work sectors, a variety of individuals and organizations have taken up the language of “purpose,” “calling," and "vocation" in ways that bridge secular, religious, and spiritual settings. Affirming Max Weber's recognition of the need for extra-economic work ethics, these actors seek to produce frameworks of personal and spiritual significance through which workers impute their work with deeper meaning. Two specific cases were selected to highlight the cultural production of these frameworks: a set of managerial consultants promoting purpose as a strategy for optimizing organizations and a newly emerging set of "faith and work" experts in contemporary American Evangelicalism. A mixed-methods approach of interview data, participant observation at events, and quantitative assessment of movement resources was drawn upon to sketch out these movements and assess their efforts to inject these "purpose frameworks" into economic settings. The study concludes by exploring implications related to ethical conditions of labor, cultural dimensions of organizational behavior, and the ideological needs of labor in advanced capitalist societies.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
work, Weber, religion, business ethics, meaning
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