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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Before the Surrogate of Motivation: Motivation and the Meaning of Work in the Golden Age of the American Whaling Industry Part 2

This article focuses on the meaning of work in organizational contexts during early US industrialization before motivation was invented as a management tool, specifically the American whaling industry. It explores how and to what extent the meaning of work was ultimately lost and 'perverted' in whaling, when the industry turned from a profession into a capitalist business that reached its peak by the early 1840s. Written from a socioanalytic perspective, this paper is based on the working hypothesis that while organization studies, and psychoanalytic ones in particular, focus predominantly on contemporary organizations and their respective working conditions as their objects of study, the dramatic changes in the American whaling industry during the late 18th and the first half of the 19th century provide insight into the conscious and unconscious dynamics underlying the transition from an organizational reality based on the relatedness of members of a community to one driven exclusively by profit. While the first part, in Critique 49, 37:3 (2009), pp. 391413, gave a brief overview of the history of the American whaling industry and elaborated its deterioration of working conditions during the period from 1690 to 1850, this second part contains further reflections on the relatedness of meaning and motivation at work in this industry.