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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Recent growth in interest in identities is linked to societal changes, including an unprecedented degree of freedom in the industrialized West (Bauman, 1988; Ritzer, 1999; Sennett, 1998). Choice suggests autonomy but it also burdens us with responsibility and anxiety. The aim of this chapter is to explore how the ‘capitalistic’ conception of freedom associated with agile identities affects life at work. Agility implies that individuals are able, indeed are deemed responsible for becoming—or failing to become—the ‘right’ type of employee/organization member. The notion of ‘agile identity’ proposed here, with its emphasis on the fragile obverse of the agility coin and its reminder that identity is not simply a linguistic phenomenon, but is fundamentally embodied, allows these tensions to be explored critically. The authors problematize the nature of current demands for agility at work, and invite reflection on issues of power and resistance. They ask, ‘How can the exploitative ideology of the new spirit of capitalism, surreptitiously operating through overtly benign and humanistic mantras such as “liberation management”, effectively be resisted?’ They suggest that the notion of identity—with its ambiguous and fluid character—has become the ideological prop of the new spirit of capitalism. Thus, scholars need to be vigilant in how they ‘talk’ about identity in scholarly debates and strive to articulate concepts that help understand the workplace while also supporting critique. ‘Agile identity’ is the authors’ contribution to these efforts.

Keywords: identity, agency, agility, ideology, new capitalism, precarity

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