Commodification of the body and corporate discipline

Sarah Gilmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

It has been argued that in Western societies there are tendencies to encourage us to believe that we can achieve personal fulfilment alongside the space for self-expression and personal growth. But as noted by Craib (1994), these beliefs require us to balance a paradox between our aspirations and the pragmatic realisation that we might not become the person we want to be or achieve the career or other successes we truly desire; that these ambitions might be distant goals which we might never achieve. However, as Craib states, occupying this position and potentially modifying these hopes - making a compromise with ‘reality’ - can be a painful one because of the cultural value attached to selffulfilment and self-expression. This is exacerbated by the uncertainties we experience in our wider environment: ‘And it is as if, in response to this immense uncertainty, we have to believe in the certainties of our own desires. The tangles and confusions that we get ourselves into when trying to maintain these certainties come to seem preferable to the pain of disappointment and uncertainty.’(Craib, 1994: 6) What follows is an argument for the importance of disappointment and what Freud (cited in Craib, 1994: 39) termed ‘normal human misery’ through an investigation of the problematic investment we are encouraged to make in the body. As noted by Shilling: ‘With the decline of formal religious frameworks in the West which constructed and sustained existential and ontological certainties residing outside the individual, and the massive rise of the body in consumer culture as a bearer of symbolic value, there is a tendency for people in high modernity to place ever more importance on the body as constitutive of the self.’ (Shilling, 2003: 2 – emphasis in the original). This is heightened by a development within society where many no longer place faith in religious authority, grand political narratives or ideologies – or have a world view provided by these meaning structures, so ‘…at least the body initially appears to provide a firm foundation on which to reconstruct a reliable sense of self in the modern world’ (Shilling, ibid – emphasis added). Offering an example from sport, allied to a psychodynamic approach, an illustration of the problematic – indeed illusory and inevitably transient nature of this investment - will be made by focusing on the increasingly complex relationships athletes and organizations have with the body. Using the case of English cricketer, Andy Flintoff, I will explore the matrix of forces at play upon the body of the elite sportsperson and the interplay this has with ‘traditional’ companies; outlining the heightened investment and symbolism made here – offering a Kleinian Klein, 1952) analysis to stakeholder responses to physical and ‘hence’ performative failure. Ultimately I will argue that experiencing and holding the anxiety at the heart of these processes is not necessarily comfortable, or necessarily encouraged – because of the suffering it involves; a suffering rooted in a return to infantile states. If we can hold that anxiety, following Kle in, there is the possibility for holding the paradox mentioned by Craib: a crucial one for athletes, organizations and those who are stakeholders in both.
Original languageEnglish
JournalElectronic Journal of Radical Organisation Theory
Volume8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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