Neoliberal Workers

It’s curious how often people mistake their own psychological problems for “truths universally acknowledged”: 

What allows us to be happy and satisfied on a daily basis at work? . . In my opinion, the best predictor is how wonderful the people are in our departments and our own labs. What are some other variables that are not as important? In my opinion, that includes funding levels, the type of institution, campus politics, commuting, and many other kinds of stuff.

People described in the linked post make for shitty workers. They believe that work exists in order to provide them with the comforting experience of an idealized, supportive, warm, and cocooning family. They expect a job to fulfill a need that no job is meant to do. In the end, they always end up recreating the unhealthy family dynamic that they come from in the workplace. 

However, they are also the ideal type of neoliberal worker. They come to work in order to satisfy a yearning for relationships and emotional fulfilment. You can mistreat them as you wish, deprive them of funding, undermine their research, create intolerable working conditions, yet they will keep coming for more because they are addicted to the illusion of familial relationships at work. Ask these poor sods to unionize, and all you’ll hear in response is a speech on how wrong it is to be adversarial and antagonistic. 


13 thoughts on “Neoliberal Workers”

  1. Work (in the economic sense) is a means to paying one’s bills, at least for workers. If one finds meaning beyond that in it, I suppose that would be rather neoliberal of them. For employers, hiring is something to be done as a last resort; when one has run out of options that don’t require additional staff. “Job creator” is the most egregious piece of Newspeak I can think of.


    1. That’s not in the least true. Have you actually talked to many employers?

      As for finding meaning BEYOND, the linked post annoys me because it talks of a meaning instead and not beyond.


  2. To me, the work environment needs to be drama free and conducive to doing work, meaning that people behave civilly and professionally. Less than that, it becomes a serious issue, but more than also easily veers into the unprofessional. I disagree with that article that funding and such is unimportant — funding, facilities, etc. are all very important; a colleague who moved to a richer school says everyone’s much more pleasant because there’s more money around for things that people need, which reduces everyone’s stress level.

    I admit I have never understood excessive fraternizing at work, not even common activities like the whole research group comes to a barbecue at advisor’s house. I have never had any of my grad students in my home, and I would consider it me imposing on them. The only group events I organize are during the week, business hours, and they are lunches to say goodbye to someone who’s graduated (I pay for everyone). I think requiring anything outside of business hours, like what some faculty do — e.g., the whole group participates in a race, or goes to a picnic, etc. — while people say it’s a good bonding experience, I would consider it another manifestation of myself imposing on group members, encroaching on their personal time. If they can’t freely say no because of the power differential, then it’s not okay for me to put them in a situation where they end up doing something they don’t want to do.


    1. My colleagues are all wonderful people but we still have no health insurance and the travel funds will probably be pulled completely next year. How does it help to know that my colleagues are nice?


      1. I was not disagreeing with you but with the original post you had linked to; I do think that sufficient funds for operation, health insurance, etc. are absolutely critical for work and their lack cannot be overcome by nice colleagues; it can only be exacerbated further by bad colleagues. What your institution is undergoing with a perpetual lack of health insurance is awful beyond words.


  3. Strange. I have always had close friends among other topologists, especially continuum theory specialists, although not so much among my departmental colleagues, with rare exceptions. But then, I identify strongly as a continuum theorist; I would do work on it (and am doing it, since I am retired now) whether I was being paid or not. It is, harkening back to Sartre, what gives my life meaning. I do not get the “it is just a job” attitude at all.


    1. As I was recently made to understand , my job is exclusively about teaching and sitting in committees. I wouldn’t do any of it for a second if I weren’t paid.


      1. \ my job is exclusively about teaching and sitting in committees. I wouldn’t do any of it for a second if I weren’t paid.

        I know you hate committees, but I thought you loved teaching and seeing the change from a first year student from a disadvantaged background who doesn’t know what a file is to this same student arguing about literature and dreaming about seeing the world several years later. Your posts about it were inspiring and filling even me with joy just from reading them.

        Your students are lucky to have you. Regardless of institutional policies, you are making a huge difference for them, while also having sufficient free time to do research. I think combining raising a child with research would have been much harder outside of academia.

        As for health insurance, aren’t you switching to your husband’s plan soon?


        1. I wouldn’t do any of it if I weren’t paid, though. That would be an insane thing to do. I’m doing what’s strictly necessary to earn my pay. Beyond that, I’m not doing anything. And why should I?

          Yes, we now have my husband’s insurance. Which means I took an undeserved pay cut of $22,000 per year.


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