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Self, Social Structure, and BeliefsExplorations in Sociology$
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Jeffrey Alexander

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780520241367

Published to California Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520241367.001.0001

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The Glass Cage: Flexible Work, Fragmented Consumption, Fragile Selves

The Glass Cage: Flexible Work, Fragmented Consumption, Fragile Selves

(p.57) Chapter 4 The Glass Cage: Flexible Work, Fragmented Consumption, Fragile Selves
Self, Social Structure, and Beliefs

Yiannis Gabriel

University of California Press

This chapter engages with the two radical departures from the work of Max Weber. In particular, the chapter examines the discourse that starts with a critique of Weber's Protestant ethic and concludes that such an ethic is no longer hegemonic. Second, the chapter examines the proposition that, contrary to the disenchantment of the world brought about by modernity, we are currently part of a reenchanment of the world, signaled by an ever closer association between the management of organizations and the orchestration of collective fantasies and the venting of collective emotions. Fantasy and emotion have become a driving force in and out of organizations as individuals strive to achieve precarious selfhood in a society saturated with images, signs, and information. This chapter focuses on Richard Sennett and George Ritzer, who have made significant and complementary contributions to these discourses. These two authors offer sharp analyses of contemporary societies, but both also underestimate certain tendencies which run counter to their core theses. The two authors both end up with highly individualistic accounts, arguing that for different reasons new capitalism increases freedom at the price of insecurity, isolation, and meaninglessness. To counter these two authors, the chapter uses some of Smelser's arguments as a corrective tool and to show that a society is characterized by a fundamental ambivalence between freedom and community, dependence and independence. This perspective allows a less one-dimensional prognostication of the future than that offered by Sennett and Bitzer. The core thesis in this chapter is that the abatement of Weber's iron law of rationality has exposed people neither to the freedom of a garden of earthly delights nor to the desolation of an anomic law of the jungle. Instead, this chapter proposes that new forms of entrapment through the metaphor of a glass cage are replacing the iron cage.

Keywords:   Max Weber, Protestant ethic, collective fantasies, collective emotions, Richard Sennett, George Ritzer, ambivalence, rationality

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