"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Monday, March 3, 2014

New Capitalism Meets Reality

Reading Gee’s chapters on the “new capitalism” with promises of an “enchanted workplace” could be quite compelling. Except that I already work in the “new capitalism” so it doesn’t feel very new at all. In fact, it's the only work environment that I have known, ranging across several different organizations. I’m also quite sure that I haven’t used the word “enchanted” or “utopia” to describe my job beyond the sugar high induced glow of new hire orientation. There are a lot of promises in his words that can sound tremendously appealing if you haven't experienced that world yet. I do give him credit for having a clear vision about a new world order in the late 1990's. He does describe some aspects very accurately.

“Workers hired from the neck down only had to follow directions and mechanically carry out a rather meaningless piece of the process…” (Gee, p. 26). This statement makes me want to study workers from the post World War II who had production jobs. How did they really feel? Were they empty inside because their jobs didn’t have meaning? Were they secretly wishing for more? What did they want to do instead? What were their dreams? Because I’m quite certain that they didn’t dream of working in cubicles, where they sat on conference calls for 10 hours a day. Did they want to be doctors or lawyers? Did they want to go to college? Or were they like Rosa and felt tremendous satisfaction in the job they were able to do? Did they feel happy to pay their bills and feed their families? Were they too tired to want more? My assumption is that there was a mix of both, just as there is in today’s workforce. No sweeping conclusions can be made about any generation’s level of satisfaction with their work. We are each very different people, with our own set of hopes and dreams.

Gee’s writing reminds me of Theory X and Theory Y. Theory X is based on the premise that building a team of specialists will create a workforce who learns faster and will do a more efficient job than a team of generalists. Lewin developed Theory Y as a reaction to Theory X, giving workers a voice in the process, which is very similar to Gee’s “new capitalism”. Lewin focused not only on productivity but was the first to understand job satisfaction. Gee takes it one step further and refers to them as “knowledge workers” who have choices and inputs into the process.

It’s fair to say that many of us have evolved into Theory Y in today’s workplace. But are we happier? Gee makes promises of utopia and finding meaning in our work in his text. How many of you find meaning in your work (besides Greg)? It seems like we have evolved right past the point of job satisfaction. Now that we have the ability to become self-actualized, can we find happiness? Or will we constantly be searching for more? Searching for the next mountain to climb. The next goal post. The next challenge to overcome.

Have we outsmarted ourselves? Shawn Achor still thinks happiness is possible – link to his TEDtalk is below. I hope it’s 12 minutes that will give you a reason to smile and to give you some hope.


  1. Jen,
    One of the aspects about Blogging that I really enjoy is the variety of perspectives that emerge from the same reading due to the variety of backgrounds of the readers. It makes me realize that Gee is correct when he stated that we read in a social text based our backgrounds, experiences, and education.

    My major "take away" from the reading focused on the statement below:

    "In the end we are arguing that the lean and mean hypercompetitive, perfection-driven nature of the new capitalism requires a core of relatively well paid knowledge leaders and workers supplemented by a bevy of people 'servicing' them for the least possible price so that their ideas can be translated into the highest quality, most competitive products possible."

    My concern is the polarization of earnings, with the top 20% earning super wages while the bottom 80% earning much less---perhaps not even earning a livable wage for the lowest 20%. If Gee's projection about the New Capitalism is realized, I wonder how much productivity or job satisfaction the bottom 80% will experience.

  2. Jen, your point about all of us coming from different perspectives and having different ideas about what our ideal life looks like is truly valid. I knew I was reading too much "with" the text on this, and never considered the idea that the Discourse of fast capitalism probably makes a great number of people very happy. And to ask the valid question: Do we have to be happy at work? Can work just be work? Do we have to love it? What is the value if we do, or if we don't?

    Bob also makes a really great point about the lowest paid workers are affected by the Discourse without having any kind of input on it. I know from my experience that when you're just trying to survive and pay the bills, happiness at the workplace seems to not even truly factor into the equation: you're doing what you have to do to survive. So does job satisfaction matter to those folks? Would more money matter more?

  3. Thank you, Bob and Caitlin! I have read/watched a ton of data on what motivates us to work in today's society. I think the line is actually much different than the 80/20 line. I think once you make "enough", money it stops being a motivator for many people. Caitlin, once upon a time, I did love my job. So I am always chasing that dream. I do believe it's possible.But it may not be realistic. I think work can be work. But I'd like to find more meaning, more purpose, in my work. For now, I can find those things in other places in my life - in my volunteering and in these classes. In today's world we are always trying to find, create, and develop an "engaged" workforce. Daniel Pink has written several books on the topic of motivation - I think you will both enjoy this short talk he gave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc

  4. Jen, these are profound questions about the happiness of workers past and present. Its probably fair to say that we cannot compare two era's to see which was happier. But we can certainly find continuities (like--its still work!) and shifts (like technology's hyper-effects on monitoring). For me what's interesting is trying to "read" the times we are in, and yes, the historical perspective helps. Wonderful, thought provoking post. Thank you...


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.