I read an article on LinkedIn — actually a heavily reposted article, tellingly — that a “work spouse” (“work husband”/”work wife”) is beneficial for productivity at a managerial/strategic level in industry (any industry). Now I know this was not a decent ethnographic study: I know it even though I only read the headline. I’ve on occasion thought that if I were to return to study, workplace relationships would be a great untapped field for sociological scrutiny. I mean, the stories that people have!
Our musings are scoped by “Love” and “Philosophy”. So let’s not get too distracted. As we began our thesis, our theme is the suppressed term of Love in Philosophy. It’s not our job to conduct that said ethnoanthropological study today. However, in the spirit (geist?!) of Derrida to Levi-Strauss, it is within our philosophical berth to examine Love as the suppressed signifier of 1) the workplace as a signifier within ethnographic discourse and 2) workplace ethnoanthropology. What? I hear you exclaim. You just said that’s out of scope of any philosophical investigation. No, no, no. We probably didn’t explain at the outset (oversight) what we mean by “philosophy” at this point of our dialogue.
We began with Socrates and Plato … then meandered into medievalism, explored the Cartesian-Humean-Kantian suppression of Love … somehow we were inclusive of the Freudian school into our scope … Our scope is historical, and in this sense our investigation adopts an ironic Foucaltian stance, we just don’t carry on about it. So we’ve travelled from early BC all the way to the 20th century. So we’re in Wittgenstein and Derrida mode here. This meandering: it’s what philosophy is, just as much as we’ve characterised its suppressed term love … it’s a vine that meanders. Oh we didn’t mention that? Yes, philosophy is probably at this stage almost as much a gypsy as love was in previous centuries. Who knows, maybe the oak tree imprinted and went all viney-winy. Yet some things are in scope and some things are out of scope at any point of time.
So here we go.
The workplace is a term that is generally employed to categorise the middle tier of the industrial complex. Below that there is the lower tier of the factory floor or the mail room or building security or cleaning, etc. Above that there are those who truly operate the levers of power, the upper tier. But the workplace is where most of us people, definitely most people reading this, either subsist or subsist in reaction to, relation to. Doesn’t matter if you are an actual philosopher outside of my industry: you chose to remain as such at some point in reaction to the workplace, as your place in the discourse is still fundamentally a bourgeois articulation and you know it. That’s a kind of Marxist categorization of mine, roughly, minus the valuative diss and change management intent. I’m just telling it like it is.
Okay. Let me expand quickly.
Lower, middle, upper. But — and here is the crux, sexually and amorously — lower and upper are subordinately situated in relation to the primacy of the middle. The workplace seems innocuous but it emerges in our history as a transformation of the human psyche, the human journey, the human body. A transformation that has at this time of writing been globally realised. Our bodies were rendered symbolic, and through this necessarily engendering spheres of imaginary and real, and deeper still, internally maintaining a self sufficient symbolic system of Idrisian corporeality. The former we discuss now, we shall return to the latter shortly in the next section.
The middle tier workplace exists in the way that language exists and is the only thing that can really be said to “exist” — and as suppressed corollary the lower factory floor and the levers of power exist secondarily. Prior to this, we were not truly ready for the 20th century, there was no Hegal, no Marx, no preparation for Derrida, for our current state of philosophical investigation (think Viennese aristocratic Wittgenstein and his advice to his working class lover to abandon philosophy return to the factory floor).
Any suppression, any Hegelian action is fucking hot, fucking sexual. You know it baby. And this is a fucking Hegelian three way.
A) The tiers of “power” are naught but a sex game that requires a middle tier to coordinate as, alternately, the sub and the dom. And the middle tier creates the upper as a phantasy of aspiration, that there is an escape, a final level of exit from the workplace, when actually any escape, as the Zen Koan goes, is in the mind. And therefore what the workplace wants is not escape but a circuit of sublimation/domination whose class-surplus must necessarily give realisation to the (Lacanian) ideal of the Imaginary upper tier to the Symbolic of the Workplace. And ethically existential quantification: there is only one mama/papa CEO but the mama/papa CEO. And I love her.
B) In contrast, the tier of the factory floor is defined as a (Lacanian) Real by the Symbolic voice of the workplace. It’s the realm of sweat and blood. You hear its situation in the ordinary discourse of the workplace. “What my Grandma did, she used to clean hotels, now I’m a Vice President at Company XYZ with my own fucking cubicle.” “Hey sir, looking sharp today.” “Yeah got the boss in town today, George, hehehe.”
Like the upper, the lower is full of real, beautiful/ugly people of flesh and blood: but ethically it is engendered by a universal quantification over the love and yet desire to defer flesh and effort and real production. The workers do not control the means to production, the workers (obviously) are a function of production deferred to middle management’s suppressed Oedipal desire for the worker as an object of the past. But they’re still here, neglected (they get noisy from time to time for that), real. An unspoken real for the middle. Unspoken drives and desires. Not a death drive, but something like it, intertwined as it is with the amorous instinct and an instinctual silence. We know our descendants at some point really worked, were real men and real women: we love that, yet we determine to defer/create/situate such activity, not for reasons of capital (that’s an excuse) but because we are fundamentally Oedipal about that very pseudo-historical configuration/reflection we realise (real eyes). We want, we love, but we suppress our desire for what came before this universe, this sign regime, and so we name it the factory floor and try to distance ourselves from it. When all that while, we really love her.
In this way, the Workplace is fundamentally a symbolic force that yields its own Real and its own Imaginary: a complex fundamentally psychosexual/libidinal. There are consequences. A trinary class system is engendered out of desire, out of want, out of hidden feelings, out of forbidden love. There are consequences. Forbidden, necessary, as otherwise the the trinity system would implode. There are consequences.
I dare speculate in the 21st century, without a decent formulation of Love, the consequences will be dire for the world. So it’s important we continue this investigation. It might help a little — at worst it will be a footnote to a difficult, seemingly global, potentially imminent implosion.
There’s a lot written about the workplace in an essentially ethnographic mode. It’s usually colloquial. I began with the LinkedIn example, but take the Harvard Business Review as a more institutionalised narrative — written and widely read by a non-academic audience. Still I observe these are all contributions to a widely read/retweeted narrative that conform to an essentially anthropological discourse of the observer (anthropologist) and the workplace.
Curiously, while often non-academic (of course there’s also many proper journal articles), the ethnoanthropological gaze, pseudo-objective as it is, consistently fails to embed, to capture, or even to narrate the passion that makes the workplace tick. By passion I mean emotive, felt, embodied love and hate. Hate/love = passion.
This strange symbolic bourgeoise middle tier, that engenders a real below and an imaginary above: it loves and hates, it is, within itself, built upon love and hate. “I really hate him, if he got hit by a bus tomorrow my job would be so much easier.” “I am going to fuck him up the ass for saying that, just you see.” “I love my manager, I’d go to the ends of the earth for him.” “Well, we know why you’re saying that, girlfriend.” Within the ethnoanthropological gaze, we do no justice to the embodied passion of this symbolic sphere, this very Idrisian (Sufism) re-emergence of libindal pleasure within the fetish of the language-in-itself of the workplace.
I mean, I could argue similarly about all ethnoanthropology. In its most sophisticated form, it acknowledges its deficiencies, the Schrodinger’s Cat nature of its pseudo objectivity, the observer clearly implicated in his/her own narrative.
But this is the fundamental irony of the state of this discourse: this cautious post structural stance means embodiment gets lost. Now, I’m no longer an academic and I don’t follow the journals. But, focusing on the workplace, as I observed, the discourse is alive and kicking, albeit colloquial. Can embodiment of hate and love be productively incorporated without going AWOL, still standing on the shoulders of Bourdieu and Levi-Strauss?
Yes. This is achieved: by means of the convergence of the ethical and the post structural ethnographic gaze.
It’s time this happened. Perhaps even imperative. We are to live as we experience hate in our middle tier in accord with an existential (mathematically) ethics of love.