Alexandra Michel, University of Southern California, published “Transcending Socialization: A Nine-Year Ethnography of the Body’s Role in Organizational Control and Knowledge Workers’ Transformation” on January 30th, 2012 in Administrative Science Quarterly. To view other OnlineFirst articles, please click here.
To view The Wall Street Journal article, “Hazard of the Trade: Bankers’ Health,” please click here.
A nine-year ethnography is used to show how two investment banks’ controls, including socialization, targeted bankers’ bodies, how the bankers’ relations to their bodies evolved, and what the organizational consequences were. The banks’ espoused and therefore visible values emphasized autonomy and worklife balance; their less visible embodied controls caused habitual overwork that bankers experienced as self-chosen. This paradoxical control caused conflict between bankers and their bodies, which bankers treated as unproblematic objects. The conflict generated dialectic change that cognitive control theories overlook because they neglect the body. Cognitive control theories predict outcomes only in bankers’ first three years, when the banks benefited from bankers’ hard work. Starting in year four, body breakdowns thwarted organizational control. Despite bankers’ increased attempts to control their bodies, performance declined. Starting in year six, intensified breakdowns forced some bankers to treat their bodies as knowledgeable subjects. Because the body cannot be socialized completely, it helped numerous bankers transcend the banks’ socialization and modify their behaviors. Surprisingly, the banks benefited from this loss of control because the bankers’ ethics, judgment, and creativity increased.