After Busyness: Working with the Rhythms of Global Capitalism

Snyder, Benjamin, Sociology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Olick, Jeffrey, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Pugh, Allison, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Polillo, Simone, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia
Oishi, Shigehiro, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia

American workers face an employment landscape that looks dramatically different from that which confronted workers just a generation ago. Since roughly the 1960s, new forms of capitalist production, asset management, and human resource management have altered the way people, products, and capital move through time-space. Throughout this period, the economic system has weathered a series of booms and busts that, during good times, have extended the reach of these new forms of capitalism to more parts of the globe, and, during bad times, have generated global shocks that reveal how deeply connected economic fates have become. In this study, I present three years of ethnographic research and 70 in-depth interviews on the work-a-day worlds of Wall Street financial professionals, long-haul truck drivers, and unemployed job seekers as they struggle to keep up with the accelerated pace of the post-industrial workplace in America. Drawing on Henri Lefebvre’s powerful but neglected theory of rhythm and Eviatar Zerubavel's theory of temporal cognition, I show how new forms of capitalist production, investment, and consumption are producing new “timescapes” and "time maps" in the workplace, which negatively affect workers’ mental and physical health and challenge their ability to construct coherent visions of themselves as good workers. I sat with bond traders at one of the world’s most powerful asset management firms as they built the global debt markets, I rode alongside truck drivers as they delivered freight according to a rigid federal scheduling system enforced by new forms of GPS surveillance, and I followed job seekers as they navigated an impossible job market following the 2008 financial collapse. In all three contexts, respondents described an experience of everyday life as disjointed, staccato, and short-term oriented—experiences that are linked to both epochal transformations in capitalism, such as financialization, flexibilization, and the rise of precarious work schemes, as well as distinct economic events, such as the financial collapse. Though respondents navigated these sources of change differently, all shared a similar existential concern: the way time flows through their spaces of experience challenges their ability to project themselves into the future—to see a whole narrative of the good life that feels sustainable in the long term. Time is a source of moral dilemma for contemporary American workers.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
sociology, culture, work, time, post-industrial, capitalism, economic sociology, temporality
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