Accepted Paper:

"The corrosion of character" revisited: flexible work in practice  


Jens Kjaerulff

Paper short abstract:

This paper takes issue with Sennett's famous book 'The Corrosion of Character', in which he suggested that flexible work undermines important social dimensions to working. Instead, the paper argues that work as a cultural tradition is being reinvented through situated practices of flexible work.

Paper long abstract:

Ten years ago, in his famous book 'The Corrosion of Character' (1998), Richard Sennett suggested that 'the new, flexible capitalism' was undermining important social aspects of work, such as relations of mutual commitment, and work as a source of identity. Based on fieldwork among people practising a form of flexible work known as 'telework' (working from home via internet), this paper argues that Sennett was wrong, but that aspects of his argument ressonate with shifts in so-called 'hidden' dimensions of working life. Where Sennett suggested that habits and routines in contexts of work where 'dying' albeit of 'primary value in social practice and selfunderstanding', this paper instead suggests that habits and routines, and their social significances, are being reinvented through the practice of flexible work. The paper proposes a comparative perspective where work is seen as a dynamic cultural tradition, from which the material under consideration may be approached as situated processes of cultural reproduction and incremental change.

Panel W057
Flexible capitalism: new forms of mutuality and diversity at work?