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Tune in, breakdown, and reboot - On the production of the stress-fit, self-managing employee

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Routine work‐process, lack of self‐management, and long work‐hours havetraditionally been the main topics of discussion within the occupational stressliterature, constituting the primary factors that make people breakdown and burnout. But within the last couple of years, this discussion has expanded its focusfrom issues concerning the disciplinary work‐space. Increasing attention is nowbeing placed on the problems related to the burgeoning interest in employeeempowerment and self‐management in contemporary work‐life. In short, howstress relates to self‐management. These working conditions, which put a greatdeal of emphasis on the subjectivity of the employee and the ability of theemployee to self‐manage in a pursuit of an organization’s goals, are thus no longerregarded as something that decreases stress, but rather as something that evokesit. However, as this thesis argues, one can regard stress as more than a crisis weare faced with in our work‐life. It is also an element that co‐produces what it is tobe a efficient employee‐subject within this work‐life.Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s ontology of flows and machines, this sketchesout how stress among self‐managing employees, and in particular the manner inwhich stress is reduced to a matter of individual coping, can be viewed as anorganising process that separates, joins and codes the ontological fabric of ourlives. In this regard, certain modes of existence centred on stress issues and thecoping strategies of individuals are themselves produced as an individualresponsibility for maximizing one’s own productivity as a self‐managing andcommitted employee. As I will argue, the production of this mode of existence ofthe employee‐subject revolves around the assumption of an employee subjectthat is able to tune its feelings, desires and thoughts in to a life of productivitywithout breaking‐down their body and soul. In fact, the potential break‐down ofstress should act as an internal limit for personal productivity, as a way ofrebooting to an ever more efficient self‐management. All in all, we can thereforetalk of a production‐process revolving around the presumption of an always fitter,happier, more productive employee.The questions raised in the investigation of this particular form of production ofsubjectivity are: what notions of subjectivity as a productive resource are wepresented with when not only self‐management but also the management of thestress this self‐management might entail becomes an underlying foundation for aflexible and efficient organization? What can an employee think, do and hope forunder such circumstances? What are the dynamics that drive such a notion ofsubjectivity? And with what necessity does this notion set itself forth?All in all, the claim made in the thesis is that for this fitter, happier, and moreproductive employee, dealing with oneself and stress are primarily matters ofindividual responsibility and personal development. But by turning stress into matters of individual responsibility, happiness and productivity, one therebymisses some of the underlying ontological processes working within selfmanagementtheories and practices. These processes are pre‐personal or preindividualin the sense that they outline ways we can be produced as individualsubjects. These not only produce stress as a possibility for any particular individualto assume, they also convert stress‐issues amongst employees into matters ofbeing unable to adequately contribute towards the organization, leading in turntowards an understanding of these issues as something best handled if employeescan improve their own coping abilities. If they can better their own self. We canhence talk of a commitment machine that produces a zone of indiscernabilitybetween the subjectivity of the employee and the efficiency of the organizationconnecting up with a coping machine that frames problems within this zone as amatter of personal problems regarding one’s subjectivity.The coping machine serves to reinforce the production of the self‐managingemployee by making the employees themselves each responsible for learning totake control of their own passion for working in the organization. The employeehas to be passionate and committed, of course; but they now also have todistance themselves from this passion and commitment in order to perform wellat their tasks. These passions are simultaneously considered both essential andproblematic: the employee is both part of an ideal state and a pathologicalcondition. The coping machine makes this pathological condition into a problem ofpersonal commitment rather than making it a task for questioning how theproduction of the pre‐individual zone of indiscernability between the work and theemployees’ subjectivity is itself set up by the commitment machine. In otherwords, the coping machine produces a mode of existence wherein stress resultsfrom an overemphasis, on the part of the employees, upon the commitmenttowards their work and from a failure to deploy the most appropriate selfmanagementtechnologies.The thesis can thus be said to be guided by three ambitions in its unfolding of thistune in, break‐down and reboot motion. First of all, to give an account of theinherent modes of existence produced within the contemporary organizationalideal of the committed self‐managing employee. This is done through a reading ofvarious discussions about the management of employee subjectivity ranging fromthe self‐leadership literature focusing on self‐management as intrinsicallymotivating and enjoyable through to discussions of incitements to self‐manageand commit as a subtle ways to encroach and exploit the employee’s personalsubjectivity to contemporary discussions of the new nature of capitalism and itsfocus on the active living forms of knowledge as the key to value‐production.The second ambition is to address a prevalent paradigm within the occupationalstress and stress‐management literature, namely that of coping, as areinforcement of this demand for a committed and self managing employee. This is done through a reading of some of the most influential scholars within stressand coping and best‐sellers on stress‐management.The third and final ambition is to describe this movement of reinforcement, ortune in, break‐down and reboot movement, through the Deleuzian notion ofmachines that in various dynamic ways produce and regulate ways of being ormodes of existence. Consequently, it will be suggested that the nuts and boltsmaking up the relation between self‐management and stress is part of a mode ofexistence that sets up certain expectations about the problem of stress and theenterprise of dealing with stress as an individual productivity and enjoyment issue:being fitter, happier, and more productive rather than being regarded as part ofthe pre‐individual collective endeavor that constitutes us as these very subjects.Today in self‐management these machines of commitment and coping mightproduce us as a fitter, happier, and more productive subject. But this verymachinic production that unleashes and confines our subjectivity as employeesdepends on an extremely unstable pre‐individual force. Tapping into this forcealways means that the foundation of these machines are themselves vulnerableand fragile, or as Deleuze might put it: we do not know yet what we are capable ofas this fitter, happier, more productive employee, we do not know were the preindividualforces that animates the machines of commitment and coping mightbring us, so we must tune in, breakdown, and reboot to find out.Besides a short introduction and a first chapter that highlight some of the mostimportant notions in the thesis, such as self‐management, stress, subjectivity,modes of existence, pre‐individual forces and social machines, the thesis consistsof three parts. The first part running from chapter two through five, is calledMachines and Maps. Here I discuss the concept of machines as it is developed byDeleuze and Guattari. Of particular interest is their notion of a social machine. Alsocrucial is what a machinic approach in general implies when analyzing an object ofresearch and how this approach is utilized to understand the production ofsubjectivity in contemporary work‐life. The second part Self‐management and theCommitment‐machine runs from chapter six to eleven. Here I outline two machinicindices of a self‐management, namely the ‘subjectivity’ and ‘commitment’ and themachinery that drives them; the commitment machine. In the third and last partStress and the Coping‐machine, which runs from chapter twelve to fifteen, I shiftmy focus towards the two machinic indices of stress: ‘the somatic subject’ and ‘thecoping processes’. I end up with a description of the coping machinery that drivesthese indices and how this machinery connects up with the commitment machineresulting in the production of the stress‐fit self‐managing employee.

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Michael Pedersen

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