Good Jobs, Bad Jobs? Extending the Alienation Theory beyond Manual Labor

Mustafa Yavas, New York University Abu Dhabi

How can good jobs endow their occupants with a discouraging quality of (work) life? Building upon the previous research that exploited the deviant cases of bad jobs made good by workers, I examine its flipside, good jobs experienced as bad to extend the alienation theory toward white-collar labor and middle class, including its privileged, upper and transnational fractions, to better accommodate the contemporary job quality experience in our post-industrial and globalized age. Drawing from more than 100 in-depth interviews mostly with young adult Turkish professional-managerial employees of prestigious transnational corporations, I argue that alienation is driven by work that monopolizes one’s life and that underemployment qua overqualification is a general issue of skill mismatch that can lead to alienation regardless of where this mismatch occurs on a skills spectrum. I also show how prevalent status anxiety can make the occupants of “good jobs” feel trapped by their careers and hence feel dominated by their human capital (the product of their own hard work) and middle-class lifestyle. Demonstrating the human cost of workism or overwork—even under favorable conditions, my extended alienation theory more emphatically makes a case for an overall reduction in working time as a key demand for our individual and collective well-being and calls to expand our limited criteria of worthiness by re-valorizing non-corporate careers.

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 Presented in Session 67. Good Jobs, Bad Jobs