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Culture of Soft Work: Labor, Gender, and Race in Postmodern American Narrative

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American workers over the past half-century have found themselves steeped in management discourses promoting teamwork, synergy, vision, and a host of other concepts meant to inspire an ever deeper commitment to work. The Culture of Soft Work offers an original examination of American writers' responses to these motivational techniques through readings of postmodern novels and a diverse range of other canonical and popular texts. Building on the work of scholars who have investigated the cultural impact of ...

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Culture of Soft Work: Labor, Gender, and Race in Postmodern American Narrative

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Overview

American workers over the past half-century have found themselves steeped in management discourses promoting teamwork, synergy, vision, and a host of other concepts meant to inspire an ever deeper commitment to work. The Culture of Soft Work offers an original examination of American writers' responses to these motivational techniques through readings of postmodern novels and a diverse range of other canonical and popular texts. Building on the work of scholars who have investigated the cultural impact of Frederick W. Taylor’s management theory, this study is the first to examine how post-Taylorist management has shaped Americans’ subjectivity and their art. Hicks ably demonstrates that while Taylor hardened work by stamping it with the masculine imprimatur of science, subsequent management theorists reconceived work as soft, emphasizing its emotional, spiritual, and irrational aspects—a transformation that has redefined work as postmodern and retooled the gendered subjectivity of American workers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Nearly every page of this book taught me something new. In a series of nuanced readings, Hicks demonstrates the unexpected resonances of human relations management theory, and its progeny in the self-actualization and corporate culture movements, for a range of post-World War II books and films. Hicks joins Jameson, Harvey, and Haraway as an indispensable analyst of the relationship between postmodernism and contemporary capitalism."—Andrew Hoberek, Associate Professor of English, University of Missouri-Columbia and the author of The Twilight Of The Middle Class

“Hicks has produced an excellent literature-based scrutiny of the new managerial narrative and the consequent loss of the social imagination of work. Hers is an astute understanding of the chimera of workplace autonomy and its literary expression in a post industrial and post union world."—Laura Hapke, author of Labor's Text

"Hicks has written an indispensable book…Equally at home in management theory and gender studies, she shows that literature and film can offer powerful insight into recent management strategies that seek to control the workplace by controlling the affective lives of workers."—James F. Knapp, author of Literary Modernism and the Transformation of Work

"What is perhaps most innovative and suggestive about Hicks’ The Culture of Soft Work lies in its argument for the prevalence of representations of work in fiction and film of the latter decades of the twentieth century but in a form other than traditional working-class literature."—Magali Cornier Michael, Professor and Chair, Department of English, Duquesne University and author of New Visions of Community in Contemporary American Fiction

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Heather J. Hicks is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Graduate Program in English at Villanova University. She has published articles in Arizona Quarterly, Contemporary Literature, Postmodern Culture, Camera Obscura, Critique, African-American Review, and other jourbanals and essay collections concerned with contemporary literature and film.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures

Introduction: "Soft Is Hard" 1

1 "No Good to Anybody": Player Piano, General Electric, and the Consumption of Work 15

2 Soft Soap, Snow Jobs, and Apartment Keys: Human Relations Management in Mid-Century Literature and Film 45

3 Automating Feminism: Self-Actualization versus the Post-Work Society in Joanna Russ's The Female Man 89

4 A Cyborg's Work Is Never Done: Programming Cyborgs, Workaholics, and Feminists in Marge Piercy's He, She, and It 113

5 "Sleeping Beauty": Corporate Culture, Race, and Reality in Michael Crichton's Rising Sun and Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor 139

6 Hoodoo Economics: On Management Gurus and Magical Black Men in Postmodern American Culture 165

Conclusion 201

Notes 207

Bibliography 241

Index 251

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