Ilana Gershon

Grant Type

Post PhD Research Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Rice U.

Grant number

Gr. 9972

Approve Date

August 26, 2020

Project Title

Gershon, Ilana (Rice U.) "The Social Life of Employment Contracts"

Even as unemployment rates fall, contract and freelance work is on the rise, and job tenures are short– the current median tenure is 4.2 years. The changes in work follow a historical shift in how Americans understand the employment contract. Under contemporary capitalism, people increasingly see themselves in business terms: they are the “CEO of me”. In this perspective, hiring resembles a business-to-business contract, a short-term connection centered upon solving market-specific problems. To be employable you must represent yourself as a business of one, willing to temporarily assist other larger businesses. This has changed the nature of the employment contract, especially when combined with all the new technologies, such as the online work distribution platforms, that enable more and more temporary work relationships. When people enact neoliberal perspectives, they are often challenged by the social complexities of workplaces. This fellowship proposal is to do ethnographic research for a book examining employment contracts as a lens for understanding neoliberalism as a historically specific form of capitalism which inspires patterned forms of contradictions. These contradictions can be traced ethnographically when the demands of different professions are in tension with how labor markets now function.