Alienation of Elite Labor? the Case of Turkish Elite Business Professionals

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:50
Oral Presentation
Mustafa YAVAS, Yale University, USA
Middle class is once again a hot topic of debate due to the prevalence of middle classes in the recent wave of uprisings all around the world such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movements, and the Gezi Park Resistance in Turkey, and due to its role in recent political polarization hand-in-hand with rise of right-wing everywhere. Whether the middle class in the 21st century will be consumerist and fascist or progressive and revolutionary is an agenda setting question, urging scholars to shed more light on the grievances of middle classes. In this paper, I focus on the most prestigious fraction of middle class in contemporary Turkey, the global new middle class, mostly consisting of professionals and managers who are employed by prestigious transnational corporations and who are embedded in the global field of business. Drawing from interviews with the elite Turkish white-collars working in Istanbul and New York City, and from the emerging genre of self-reflexive books written by white-collars themselves with the motto “de te fabula narratur,” I explore the following questions: What sorts of grievances and discontents do lie beneath the enviable life-styles and jobs of the prestigious white-collars? Why and how even the elite business professionals can be dissatisfied with their works, and eventually, with their lives? Burnout syndromes due to overwork culture, performance pressure and fetishization of success, feelings of inauthenticity and status anxiety, lack of meaning and purpose in their works are among the common elements of grievances of these elite workers. Relying on these findings, I argue for a case of the alienation of elite workers, and I attempt to build a theory of alienation that is grounded in contemporary experiences of prestigious white-collars to move beyond the original Marxian conception that falls short to explain the discontent of middle class.