Mom, You Were Wrong
Growing up as a child, I remember a simple mantra my mother lived by and never failed to remind me of: Nothing good can be borne out of frustration. I have to admit, as with much of my mother’s advice, this simple statement has proven true in a vast array of situations. As I now embark on the fifth week of my Laidlaw research project, however, I feel like I found a domain where frustration can foster curiosity, a thirst for knowledge and a desire for change while providing a powerful motivating force.
As employment-related stress inevitably mounts with the approach of my graduation date, I decided to forgo whatever social engagements I might have had during the winter break in favour of diligently and responsibly (or so it seemed to me at the time) applying for summer jobs and internships. Large, successful, international consulting firms were an obvious starting point for me, and the imagery of beautiful, ‘fulfilled,’ young people presented throughout the corporate brochures definitely played its part in constructing this ideal. Having spent days filling in countless application forms, my frustration and disappointment boiled over as I struggled to secure a position with one of these firms.
It was this frustration that made me question what I was doing. I wondered why I felt compelled to buy into corporate literature depicting organizational life as exciting, challenging and full of opportunities; the recruitment literature recast me as a subject that was morally obliged to act upon these opportunities. The similarity of discourse presented in promotional literature in dozens of leading-edge companies was striking. So I decided to re-focus: instead of conforming to the corporate mind games, I moved towards a critical appraisal of the graduate labour market; I wanted to understand the assumptions underlying the recruitment process, to challenge them, and to demonstrate their toxic effects on the subjectivity of graduates who voluntarily submit to them.
A few months later and five weeks into my research project, I find myself mapping out the topography of today’s graduate labour market. By tracing the connections between the dominant discourse of employability advanced by employers and policy-makers as well as the recruitment process and the fierce competition for entry into graduate schemes, I strive to illuminate the performativity of the labour market in order to allow for change. In other words, I wish to show that graduates entering the labour market are impelled, through recruitment/selection process, to alter their subjectivity so that it conforms more closely to the employers’ requirements. They thus perform the role ascribed to them by the ideology put forth by employers.
My research is fuelled by a personal frustration with the depth to which assumptions have become embedded in recruitment schemes; corporate ideology, in this scenario, imposes its definition of the labour market on future employees. This very frustration keeps me going when I encounter difficulties in my research project. These difficulties were manifold: from defining my grand ambition in terms of manageable empirical exercises, to maintaining the focus and patience when reviewing the existing literature, to stringing together my arguments in an incisive way.
So, Mom, you were wrong. Frustration can be a powerful force when mobilised as a motivation for critical scrutiny and the investigation of those things that give rise to it.