Accepted paper:

Passion for work in retail


Magdalena Petersson McIntyre (University of Gothenburg)

Paper short abstract:

This paper presents a study of work in retail environments in Sweden. Based on participant observations and interviews with workers in fashion, perfume, electronics and diy-stores the commodification of bodies and affect is explored as an affective identification with relations on the neoliberal work market.

Paper long abstract:

The paper builds on an ethnographic study of workers in retail. Participant observations in stores as well as interviews with workers in different segments of retail such as fashion, perfume, electronics and diy- building stores have been conducted. Retail is a part of the service economy that is signified of short-term employments and precarity on the one hand and on the other of a high degree of demands on skills that involve and commodify the bodies, dispositions and emotions of the individual workers. Workers had to embody particular styles and looks, they were expected to be enchanted by products, or to embody expertise related to technology and building.

The workers were generally very understanding towards such informal, and often unspoken, demands. They made sense to them as reflections of relations on the labour market which were understood as both "natural" and "taken for granted". Workers neither wanted any changes in these work relations, nor did they think that anything should be changed. Rather, to invest one's body, interests and emotions in work was described as something that has to be, as a capitalist model that cannot be changed. The only option available for workers who did not comply was, they thought, to find another job.

Building on a combination of theories of affective belonging (Berlant 2011) and of the agency of passions (Cooren 2010) the paper discusses these sense-making processes in terms of a commodification of passion as an increasing demand on the labour market.

panel P099
Changing intimate exchanges and emerging forms of resistance to intensified self-commodification