Creating Sellable Citizens : A Study of How Job Seekers Are Socialized as Labor Market Actors

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Sociologiska institutionen

Abstract: On the flexible and insecure labor markets of today, it is increasingly considered an individual responsibility to find work and to become employable. With the purpose of understanding how individuals are socialized to the rapidly transforming labor markets, this thesis examines job seeking as an often neglected site for the reproduction of labor market subjectivities. Taking as a case the Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen, AF) and their recently developed ‘webinars’ - a digital medium through which they offer coaching and advice to job seekers - this thesis examines how the AF through this medium reproduce expectations, norms and ideals on job seekers. Utilizing a Foucauldian governmentality perspective and critical theories of consumerism and employability, 17 webinars and interview data with two AF officers have been analyzed. The results show that the AF socializes job seekers into marketization discourses with strong normative claims of which personal characteristics and qualities that are desirable on the labor market. The unemployed are recommended to act as ‘entrepreneurs of themselves’, to market and sell themselves in all contexts of life, to network, to work on their appearance and emotions so that they can convey a professional impression, and to engage in private activities that might enhance their employability and market value. The analysis shows that these ideals not only teach job seekers how to find work, but also socialize them into becoming adaptive workers accustomed to the precarious and boundaryless working life of today. This is shown to have both empowering elements (as job seekers are encouraged to take control over their own employability and employment) and totalizing elements (that require job seekers to subject their personality, identity and private life to the demands of becoming ‘sellable’). 

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