1st Edition

The Self as Enterprise Foucault and the Spirit of 21st Century Capitalism

By Peter Kelly Copyright 2013

    Twenty first century, flexible capitalism creates new demands for those who work to acknowledge that all aspects of their lives have come to be seen as performance related, and consequently of interest to those who employ them (or fire them). At the start of the 21st century we can identify, borrowing from Max Weber, new work ethics that provide novel ethically slanted maxims for the conduct of a life, and which suggest that the cultivation of the self as an enterprise is the life-long activity that should give meaning, purpose and direction to a life. The book provides an innovative theoretical and methodological approach that draws on the problematising critique of Michel Foucault, the sociological imagination of Zygmunt Bauman and the work influenced by these authors in social theory and social research in the last three decades. The author takes seriously the ambivalence and irony that marks many people’s experience of their working lives, and the demands of work at the start of the 21st century. The book makes an important contribution to the continuing debate about the nature of work related identities and the consequences of the intensification of the work regimes in which these identities are performed and regulated. In a post global financial crisis (GFC) world of sovereign debt, austerity and recession the author’s analysis focuses academic and professional interest on neo-liberal injunctions to imagine ourselves as an enterprise, and to reap the rewards and carry the costs of the conduct of this enterprise.

    Contents: From Kevin 07 to Kevin 24/7; New work ethics and the self as enterprise; After (a) method; Michel Foucault and the care of a self; Flexible capitalism and the Brazilianisation of work?; The spirit of 21st century capitalism; Better than sex, and toil and drudgery; Stress and the edge of chaos; The body, mind and soul of the self as enterprise; 24/7 and the problem of work-life balance; Conclusion: le laisser-faire, c’est fini; References; Index.


    Peter Kelly is Deputy Head of School (Research and Innovation), School of Education, RMIT University, Australia. He is a social theorist and researcher specialising in youth studies, social theory and globalisation. Most recently he has worked in partnership with Mission Australia, a third sector organisation that operates a social enterprise training and employment program for marginalised, unemployed young people. The action learning project examined the organisational and identify practices that influence young people's experiences of this program. Kelly co-authored the book Working in Jamie's Kitchen: Salvation, Passion and Young Workers, which used the manufactured drama of the TV series to examine the ways in which marginalised young people are required to transform themselves to secure a precarious form of salvation in globalised labour markets. His work on the evolution of a 'professional identity' for Australian Football League footballers has also been published.

    'From childhood we seem to be moulded for work, not play. Peter Kelly's new book shows some of the costs and consequences of aiming to be employable, and making our lives into careers. The Self as Enterprise is a compelling guide to the prison we have made, and the possibility of escape.' Martin Parker, University of Leicester School of Management, UK ’Provocative, eloquent and highly readable, this book will rearrange thinking about the ethics of work and the work of ethics. It shows how selfhood and society have been reconstituted as flexible capitalism and the flexible self coincide. It clarifies the intricate logics of current workplaces with their regular incantations about reinvention and their relentless invitations for us to be ever-new.’ Jane Kenway, Monash University, Australia