-- / --
In memory of a little boy with a stock of six
matches, individually for sale, on the pavement
on the occasion of a congress of the World Futures Studies Federation (Cairo, 1978).
The current worldwide economic crisis, following the financial crisis of 2008, is making it increasingly evident that "jobs" as currently defined may become a "scarce resource" in society, even a "non-renewable resource". This would make the challenge "jobs" represent for the future to be of a similar nature to that of other resources -- such as land, water, food, energy, and the like. This was argued by Jeremy Rifkin (The End of Work: the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post-market era, 1995).
Worldwide unemployment at the end of 2009 is estimated by the ILO to range between 210 million and 230 million people (Global Employment Trends). The global youth population is at a historical high of more than 1.5 billion, with some 89 percent of these living in developing countries. Many are unable to secure decent work, as youth are on average three times as likely to be unemployed as adults. In the last ten years, the world's youth population grew by 10.5 percent while youth employment only grew by 0.2 percent (Global Youth Enterprise Conference, Washington DC, 2009). The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in the European Union in March 2009 was 8.3% compared to 6.7% in March 2008.
The question here is whether there are other ways of thinking about "jobs" which would help to reframe that challenge. The exploration follows from a presentation to a workshop of the World Academy of Art and Science (Re-enchantment of Work: Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Its Off to Work We Go: Engagement in the 21st Century, 1996). It also follows from more recent concern with the general problem of lost opportunities resulting from dependence on "frozen" categories, as in the case of "job" (Framing the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital necessity, 2009) and from earlier concern framing the challenge as one of "switching" from "being unemployed" to "being employed" (Recontextualizing Social Problems through Metaphor: transcending the "switch" metaphor, 1990).
The Economist devoted its main editorial What Went Wrong with Economics: and how the discipline should change to avoid the mistakes of the past (16 July 2009). This introduced two special briefing sections on the State of Economics (The other-worldly philosophers and Financial Economics: efficiency and beyond). The issue was necessarily focused on the role of economists in relation to the financial crisis. It is appropriate to ask, however, in the light of the quality of blinkered thinking that contributed to that crisis, whether such thinking is not contributing to other difficulties over which economics claims special expertise.
Most striking are the optimistic assumptions constructed around the plateauing of population growth in the light of economic models of the constraining effects of development over the decades to come. This models may be as faulty as those which permitted the financial crisis to be so poorly anticipated. Additionally current implications of continuing population growth make it evident that there may be major challenges for the social security safety net to handle an ageing population -- irrespective of possible impatience of younger generations with any fiscal obligations to pay for errors of the past, made with the informed complicity of economists.
On a much simpler level is the well-documented issue of the challenge to economics of homeworkers and whether their activity could be defined as "work", namely whether those working in non-salaried situations should be understood to be "employed". Such blinkered construction of categories is equally evident in relation to the "black economy" or the "informal economy" -- and presumably to problematic category of indentured labour, whether or not it blurs into slavery. Whatever the legality of the situation, some criminals are obliged to "work" very hard to achieve their ends -- as with terrorist groups and freedom fighters. They may also then "work" in prison -- if successfully convicted. Such considerations -- as with any "voluntary" work are beyond the scope of economics.
It is from this unchallenged perspective that the employment crisis and the challenge of job creation is typically envisaged by government. The approach is further distorted by manipulation of official statistics to conflate those who can only "work" a few days a week with those who are "fully employed" -- as a means of disguising the level of "unemployment".
It is curious that a discipline that has come to acknowledge the importance of "research and development" and the value of "innovation" has proven to be most reluctant to apply such considerations to its own practices. The notably exception is of course the "creative accounting" developed by corporations, as exemplified by the Enron scandal. Another exception would of course be the "creativity" in development of new financial packages which were a prime cause of the financial crisis of 2008.
But when it comes to innovation with respect to the notion of a "job", economics has trailed behind innovation by those who have created new styles and patterns of "work". This is perhaps best exemplified by the open source movement in the case of software development. The Grameen Bank might be interpreted as another example. The extent of voluntary work, and the dependence of some societies (such as the Netherlands) on networks of voluntary workers, offers another example. However such innovation is recognized reluctantly, if at all, by both economics and the governments who rely on their conventional thinking.
In the current economic crisis, with dramatic increases in unemployment, notably among the most disadvantaged and potentially alienated, those seeking to engage with the economic system are confronted by a category seemingly written in stone -- a "job". The rigidity of the category is of course reinforced by myriad pieces of legislation by which it is unalterably defined.
It is within that rigid framework, or through it, that people are expected to "find a job". Governments may recognize the challenge to some degree and either "create jobs" through public investment or by obliging corporations to do so under particular conditions.
Where is there any thinking on how to reframe the nature of a "job"?
Discussion of the possibility was well-launched by Jeremy Rifkin (The End of Work: the decline of the global labor force and the dawn of the post-market era, 1995). He notably suggests the need to move beyond the delusion of retraining for nonexistent jobs and to prepare for a world that is phasing out mass employment in the production and marketing of goods and services. He sees this as requiring a redefinition of the role of the individual in a workless society with a need for fresh alternatives to the formal work so well recognized by economists.
Rifkin's argument, given the "death of jobs", might even justify interpreting the title of this paper in terms of "Inquest" rather than "In Quest".
There is a huge irony that the very language of "obtaining" or "getting" a job is now confused with mythology.
The unemployed become job "seekers" on an almost mystical quest. The "job" to be found acquires the mystique of the pursuit of the Holy Grail -- even with echoes of the problematic dynamics and mystification dramatized in The Da Vinci Code (2003). Those enabling such pursuit and facilitating access acquire the aura of gatekeeper guardians on The Way. Acquisition of the job, now involves passing "tests" reminiscent of legendary tales -- possibly complete with ancient patterns of trickery. These may necessitate unwelcome compromise -- marrying the ugly daughter of the boss, "couch" obligations, etc. As in centuries past, jobs may be acquired by paying an appropriate "commission". What corporate entity would have difficulty in finding a job for someone who offered an appropriate "commission"?
But, to the extent that there are indeed parallels to legendary tales, the question is whether such tales do not themselves have more flexibility in reframing the "quest" and the nature of the goal of that quest -- the "job". And possibly even the "seeker". For indeed such tales point to the manner in which the frustrations of the search oblige the "seekers" to redefine their sense of identity, as implied by Rifkin.
Who is it that is seeking a "job"? What are the learnings to be found on the "quest"?
Economics has nothing to say about such matters, despite its mumblings about "labour mobility".
Most curious is the phenomenon resulting from loss of jobs by executives, even senior executives. The curiosity is the creation of executive job clubs. There is for example an Executive Job Club Network which seeks to assist experienced managers who want to remain economically active, often following redundancy (Katharine Hansen, For Networking and Support, Join or Start a Job Club). They notably focus on job search presentations.
The question might be asked as to the nature of the expertise of executives disempowering them from creating their own businesses, especially with the complementary expertise gathered together in such contexts. Is it a question of the creativity with which a group of such people might select and combine their expertise to produce a viable set of jobs? Is this not also true of those who are supposedly not executive material? Why the "hunt" elsewhere for jobs? (cf Job Clubs, Networking, and Job Search Support by State).
Why the apparent lack of attention to engendering employment? How is it that the development of this skill is not fundamental to the curriculum of any MBA programme -- as the prime qualification for title of Master of the Universe (The End of the Masters of the Universe? Washington Post, 10 August 2008?; Wall Street's Masters of the Universe are dethroned, Times Online, 1 October 2008). Or is it the nature of such programmes to disenable such entrepreneurship in favour of the quest for leaders who can supply jobs for them? Is the focus indeed primarily on "business adminsistration"? Where then are the Masters of Employment Creation -- or is their absence due to the lack of complementary "Mistresses" to enable such engendering? (cf "Mistresses of the Universe"? 2009; Why Mistresses of the Universe Can't Wait, Women's Voices for Change, February 2009).
Is it "MECs" that are needed rather than "MBAs"? The new MBA Oath for "Responsible Value Creation" indeed makes no mention of employment creation to repair previous MBA-instigated damage (A Hippocratic Oath for Managers: forswearing greed, The Economist, 4 June 2009; New Chapter of MBAs take oath to do better, Financial Times, 29 June 2009).
Again it is the discipline of economics that has contributed most significantly to what amounts to the commodification of jobs and the notion of a job market -- obscuring the wider implications of employment and how it is engendered, whether for monetary remuneration or not. Understandably it is through the discipline of anthropology that the commodification of jobs has been recognized (Laurent Bazin and Monique Selim, Ethnography, Culture and Globalization: anthropological approaches to the market, Critique of Anthropology, 2006).
The question here is how to "unfreeze" the category "job". Rather than being written in stone, suppose it was a much more fluid category -- especially given the implications of labour "mobility". Given such metaphors, typically "stones" do not move -- despite the exception of "rolling stones". What would "job" look like through other metaphors -- even more "fluid", possibly even "gaseous" -- even "ionized"?
One interesting way of approaching this is the following phase diagram of a substance such as water [more]. This is a representation of the states of matter (solid, liquid, or gas) as a function of temperature and pressure. Lines separating the regions of space indicate the pressures and temperatures where phases can coexist and are in equilibrium with one another. Lines in the phase diagram may intersect at a point where solid, liquid, and gas all coexist -- a unique "triple point". Similarly a "critical point" may exist that is characterized by large fluctuations between the liquid and vapor states. Such diagrams are also used in describing the conditions of plasma -- understood as an ionized gas [more]. Plasma is however characterized by much higher temperatures and pressures.
A highly simplified diagram of that type is adapted below to show the variety of relationships between the different forms of "job" -- especially indicating that the transition from "conventional" to "creativity-based" jobs may not necessarily pass via "flexible" jobs. It suggests possibilities for resolving definitional ambiguities associated with any assumed linear progression between them..As the extreme ionization of gas, plasma is not directly represented in the diagram (it would be far to the right). The diagram does however suggest possibilities of exploring the ionization metaphor in relation to knowledge -- and the corresponding implication of the bonds in the case of solids, liquids and non-ionized gases. The adaptation calls for a metaphoric equivalent to temperature and pressure -- which are both commonly used metaphorically in insight-related processes (eg "feeling the heat", "under pressure", etc).
|Tentative adaptation of general
phase diagram (for water)
to suggest non-linear relationship between
"conventional" -- "flexible" -- "knowledge" jobs
The axes of Pressure and Temperature suggest interpretation in the metaphorical sense
in which they are commonly used in working contexts: High/Low Pressure, Heated/Cool
The conventional focus is necessarily on the "solid" jobs on the left of the diagram. However many people are obliged by the "pressure" and "heat" of circumstances to function in other kinds of mode necessarily invisible to economics. The challenge might be to develop a recognition of the range of "jobs" which people in the real world are obliged, or prefer, to take up for their survival or thrival. These are the jobs that do not figure in the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO).
Potentially more interesting is why economists have such a deep investment in not exploring such a broader notion of employment, preferring simply to allocate any form of activity that does not correspond to the conventional categories to the category of "unemployed" -- as with "homeworkers". In a society increasingly confronted with the challenge of how society is ensuring the integration into society of the "unemployed", this calls for a fresh look at what might be understood by "meaningful employment".
It is potentially devastating to consider that economics may have defined "jobs" is a manner similar to the definition of "cash crops" -- and for similar reasons. As widely noted, "cash crops" are not necessarily the most sustainable form of agriculture for a community. The same might be said of "cash jobs". Such approaches tend to design out the externalities most significant to quality of life, whether for the wealthy or the impoverished.
It may be readily assumed that one of the primary reasons for avoiding a more creative, flexible approach to understanding the nature of employment is in order to avoid disrupting the many legacy systems dependent on conventional categories -- at all cost and irrespective of the sufferings of those framed as "unemployed", if not "unemployable"..
As noted above, this exploration follows from an earlier exercise (Re-enchantment of Work: Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Its Off to Work We Go: Engagement in the 21st Century, 1996). This endeavoured to provide a more systemic reframing of the variety of understandings or biases regarding work, further developed separately (Engagement: 14 Contrasting Concepts of Meaningful Employment, 1996; Sustainable Development: a system of 14 complementary concepts, 1994).
These exercises were accompanied by another (Being Employed by the Future: reframing the immediate challenge of sustainable community, 1996) which considered the following
It is time to consider the organization of society in terms of other dimensions that might offer more people more opportunities. Rather than vainly endeavouring to "create new jobs", this would mean recognizing "existing forms of engagement" which already contribute to vital aspects of sustainability that are not measured by GNP. Voluntary association activity is one of them, as noted by Rifkin. The issue is how the old lady, sitting alone for hours in a village square, can be appreciated and rewarded by the community -- as she may be in an idyllic Italian village! They key question is in what way is she "employed"?
Is there a case for recognizing that the fact that a person is alive constitutes a form of employment. As an interpretation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a person has the right to be considered as being employed (Universal Declaration of the Rights of Human Organization, 1971). Whether employed and productive in economic terms in relation to a monetarized society, is another matter. How society can benefit and engage with the billions of people that it is producing is also another matter.
There have been a variety of studies on the value of metaphors in fruitfully reframing work, employment and careers. These are in various ways relevant, or not, to the concern underlying the challenge expressed as "finding a job" and "unemployment". More generally these studies are partly inspired by the pioneering studies of Gareth Morgan (Images of Organization, 1986; Imaginization: new mindsets for seeing, organizing and managing, 1997). He distinguished a set of eight classical images of organization: machine, organism, brain, culture, political system, psychic prison, flux and transformation, and instrument of domination. These necessarily strongly imply different understandings of the nature of work within each.
Following from the much-cited study of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (Metaphors We Live By, 1980), the comment of a blogger to the effect that in a work situation, it may be more a question of the "metaphors we serve" (What, oh what, will become of us? Metaphors We Serve, 13 July 2009). A context appropriate to the challenge of unemployment, as defined by economists, is provided by Donald N. McCloskey (Metaphors Economists Live By, Social Research, 1995).
Career development: Perhaps the most articulate response to this has been in terms of career development. In the present economic environment, and that expected for the future, this is of course increasingly irrelevant to the increasingly large numbers of people who have not yet "got a job" and are still "searching" for such an opportunity. Key studies are those of Kerr Inkson and Norman Amundsen, whether independently or in collaboration.
Thus Kerr Inkson and Norman E. Amundson (Career metaphors and their application in theory and counseling practice, Journal of Employment Counseling, 2002) explore the benefits and the dangers of metaphorical thinking and advocates the use of "multiple metaphor" as a means of understanding careers. They look particularly at metaphors in the context of new, more flexible careers. Of relevance here, they introduce a set of "archetypal career metaphors" (see also Kerr Inkson, Images of career: nine key metaphors, Journal of Vocational Behavior. 2004; Understanding Careers: the metaphors of working lives, 2006). They consider how career counseling practice can be assisted through the facilitation of metaphorical thinking.
As helpfully summarized by Norman Amundson (Mold, Mould, Mole-d: the three M’s of career development, University of British Columbia, 2007), the metaphors identified by Inkson (2004) as having “the potential to express much of the current wisdom about careers” are:
To which Amundson has since added metaphors that he considers to be consistent with social and economic changes and with some of the emerging theory and practices in the career development field (Amundson, 2005):
This disparate set of 14 could be usefully related to the earlier systemic set (Engagement: 14 Contrasting Concepts of Meaningful Employment, 1996; Sustainable Development: a system of 14 complementary concepts, 1994).
An insightfully provocative approach to metaphors is that of David Fairchild (10 Career Metaphors Guaranteed to Destroy Your Church. 12 September 2006) who comments on a set quite independent of those identified above: traffic cops, seismologists, umpires, taxidermists, stenographers, town criers, morticians, curators, astronomers, synchronized swimming coaches. This focus on "church" acquires even greater relevance to the condition of the "unemployed" to the extent that it is applied personally -- to oneself as a "church". This is in the spirit of the classical insight that the "body is the temple of the spirit", as variously acknowledged (1Corinthians 6:19-20; Acts 17: 24; Stanley Pranin, The Body is the Temple of the Spirit, Aikido Journal, #112, 1997).
It is within "career development" that the arguments have been developed for the necessary flexibility -- "unfreezing" highlighted above. The problem of course is that they have been developed for what is effectively a "buyers market", namely one in which those in employment are free to seek employment in a labour market rich in employment opportunities. This is not the current reality, except for the privileged few. Nevertheless the arguments offer valuable insights.
For example, Amundson (Mold, Mould, Mole-d: the three M’s of career development, 2007) notes that metaphors open up the possibility of acquiring new insights by shifting perspectives:
In choosing a metaphoric lens for this process I started with the concept of breaking down rigidity and embracing a more flexible and uncertain process. To capture this shift metaphorically I focused on “breaking the mold”. From this beginning I started to also think about mould, the way in which we can become stagnant and incapable through lack of action. And finally the thought of moles tunneling through the ground came to mind. Moles have very limited eye sight and really lack vision – thus the need to keep popping up all over the place. So this is the metaphoric structure that I would like to develop further.
A study by Johanna Auranen (Tervanjuontia ja ruusuilla tanssia - metaforatutkimus kasvatustyöstä kuntaorganisaation osana, University of Joensuu) focuses on educational work as part of a municipal organization. It analyzes the metaphors used by the staff as creations of organizational meanings in relation to their own work, working environment, on-the-job learning as well as to the city as an employer. It notably looks at the "metaphoric scenery" of educational work in comparison with other domains
Peter A. Creticos (Discovering New Metaphors for Work and its Relation to the People Who Perform It, March 2007) focuses on the challenge in relation to work in general:
Our problem is that our current metaphors are inadequate to meet today’s challenges. The range of metaphors used to describe our understanding of people and work is fixed and is largely unchanged over the course of several decades. Consequently, the resulting policies and programs are largely variations of an established set of basic designs that also are unchanged from the original frameworks established many decades ago. Borrowing a metaphor from the software industry, today’s programs and policies in training and education are much like versions 1.1, 1.2, etc., and less like versions 1.0, 2.0, etc.... I believe that we need new metaphors to expand and improve our understanding of people who perform work and to develop and implement programs and policies that are consistent with this new understanding.
With respect to his software metaphor, the argument of Roland Kaschek and Alexei Tretiakov (Enabling Metaphor Evolution for Improving Systems' Usability, Journal of Digital Information Management, 2006) is relevant. Creticos then draws attention to the possibility of experimenting with the metaphors of other disciplines:
It is possible that in addition to the worlds of business and finance, there are metaphors from other disciplines such as physics, cosmology, the theater, music, and religion that may offer new insights and solutions in the area of workforce development. But, in order to achieve new understandings, we must be willing to open our minds, be able to describe and apply other models to work and labor, and to assess the results against a set of desired outcomes.
Nora Spinks (Choosing the Right Metaphor to Ensure Work-Life Quality for All, WFC Resources, February 2006) focuses on the choice of metaphor to encompass both "work" and "life" (irrespective of an unfortunate implication of her argument that "work" is "life-free" and "life" is "work-free"). She indicates:
If we want to change behaviors, we need to first change mind-sets; to change mind-sets we need to change the mental images; to change mental images we need to change the metaphors we use in the work-life field.
An early exploration of such issues explored non-verbal structural metaphors (Organization and Lifestyle Design: characteristics of a nonverbal structural language, 1978).
Employment (jobs): Although the manner in which employment may be framed by metaphor is implied in its consideration with respect to "career" and to "work", there would seem to be relatively little insight into how employment itself is to be understood by the individual, especially one who is currently unemployed or, like thousands of graduates (if not millions), seeking to "enter the labour market". There seems to be little on metaphor and occupation for example, although it might be assumed that the many occupations might indeed be fruitfully distinguished by the metaphors which people are conventionally called upon to "serve", if not to "live by".
On the other hand, there is much more on the metaphoric sense of unemployment. In this respect it is interesting to note the study of Carolyn Straehle, et al. (Struggle as Metaphor in European Union Discourses on Unemployment, Discourse & Society, 10, 1999) showing how unemployment is constructed both as a `problem' and a `fight' and how these formulations can be viewed as closely connected under an overarching metaphor of `struggle'. The authors show how the struggle metaphor in EU discourses of unemployment serve various legitimizing functions in political discourse, and the connection between discourses on unemployment and the prevailing EU economic philosophy.
Cliff Goddard (The Ethnopragmatics and Semantics of ‘Active Metaphors’. Journal of Pragmatics, 2004) notably explores the implications of using the metaphor of unemployment as a contagious disease -- an assertion made by Neil Kinnock at a time when he was leader of the British Labor Party:
What exactly did he mean? .... The idea seems to be that if some people cannot get jobs something happens (presumably, a general reduction in productive economic activity) which has a snowballing effect, so that other people would not be able get jobs either.
With the levels of unemployment in the UK in June 2009 at their highest since 1995, it must then be assumed that the policies of the Labour Party effectively engendered a form of pandemic. Such a pandemic could then be seen as indifferent to national boundaries (US unemployment rate soars to 26-year high, The Guardian, 4 July 2009).
In contrast to such a focus, which evokes the need for therapeutic measures (possibly by social security systems), there is the question of what metaphors an individual can use to empower themselves in new ways in response to being framed as "unemployed" -- beyond concerns with career development and the like.
There do not appear to be studies focusing fruitfully in metaphoric terms, on the tragic experience of many who cannot "find" any "employment". As noted above, the assumption is that "jobs" are there to be found -- or, for the optimistic, may eventually be created by institutional strategies. However, if it is assumed that everybody is by definition "employed" in some way -- irrespective of whether they are conventionally remunerated -- then some studies concerned with how to change "jobs" (with the aid of metaphoric reframing) are then of interest.
This implies that "career" encompasses the many forms of "employment" which are not conventionally considered as such -- and which would not necessarily appear on a CV. "Career" is then broadened to include "life path" and "life long learning". Any sense of identity and self-esteem is then not directly dependent on the status of remunerated positions and the respect they may engender.
It may indeed be a recognizing and enriching one's metaphoric environment -- from which may then emerge new insights into more conventional employment opportunities (Reinventing Your Metaphoric Habitat, 1992). Various authors address related possibilities of use of metaphor to facilitate transition:
The programme of Training Attention (The Metaphors@Work 5 stage process, 2008) enables people to develop skills in metaphorical thinking through five stages:
What are the conceptual skills vital to survival in a social system that is liable to be increasingly chaotic? Do they combine some of the skills associated with survival training, "streetwise", radical entrepreneurship, and the like? What is the basic "cognitive toolkit" necessary for the future if the 3 R's cannot be effectively delivered -- especially where they are only of relatively marginal utility? How should such a toolkit be disseminated -- perhaps by analogy with first aid kits and emergency kits? It is here that the role of sets of folk tales and teaching stories merits attention -- notably as a means of communicating more powerful metaphors that point to new modes of action, as argued separately (Poetic Engagement with Afghanistan, Caucasus and Iran: an unexplored strategic opportunity?, 2009).
As noted by Rifkin, an important aspect of the challenge is redefining the role of the individual in a near workless society -- understood as likely to be the single most pressing issue in the decades to come. Care is required in exploring this framing because much of the challenge is liable to be not so much how the individual in defined by society but rather the options that the individual explores in engaging personally in such definition. The definition of others may be irrelevant if it is primarily through the individual's ability to adjust creatively to emerging circumstances that personal survival and thrival can be ensured.
In pointing to the "third sector", otherwise known as the "voluntary sector", Rifkin is implicitly pointing to the need for the person to rely on other forms of "income" -- well-recognized by those in that sector as "psychic income", namely non-monetary "remuneration". More needs to be understood about how this functions and the extent to which it can replace the need for monetary tokens -- especially when these may be absent. Are their different "psychic currencies" in which payment may be welcomed? Aspects of such issues are explored in the context of experimental Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS).
More intriguing is the range of ways in which any such payment may be made. Gardening offers an example in which a high degree of satisfaction may be derived independently of any capacity to sell, barter or otherwise engage with others -- and yet to ensure one's own personal survival through consuming the products of such efforts.
This points to the range of ways in which "self-employment" might be rethought by the individual, irrespective of the legitimacy accorded to this process by external authorities. To employ some extant categories, it is possible that "self-employment" might be variously understood by those who favour them as:
Intriguingly these evoke, as suggestive metaphors, the categories and processes of the "trading" well-known to economics. These are of course themselves subject to fruitful reframing through metaphor (Ruth Barrons Roosevelt, Metaphors for Trading). The question is then how to understand, given any such reframing of identity, with whom who is "trading" in such a context of self-employment.
Engagement with the world: In any effort to broaden the scope of understanding of "employment" as a mode of "engagement" with the world, there is a case for interweaving the following aspects:
Self-employment: Many of these may open new understandings of "self-employment" as suggested above. As a philosophical and meditative challenge, who indeed is employing whom in a more fundamental sense? Also of interest from a temporal perspective is the extent to which:
Reframing conventional occupations: On the assumption that emergent insight and the future will give rise to new framings, especially when radical innovation is required by chaotic times, the question is where framings of sufficient subtlety, variety and complexity are to be found. One approach is to seek a transformation of a conventionally-nested laundry-list of occupations, such as the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO). How might it be fruitfully complexified?
Avoiding premature closure, steps might include:
Insights from mathematics: An interesting equivalent is offered by the possibility of a "periodic table of mathematics", given that the vast amount of "work" done on mathematics (voluntarily or under contract) is currently organized simplistically as a nested checklist. This offers the possibility of being reordered by similar steps, especially since many of the mathematical disciplines so ordered are relevant to any understanding of more integrative representations of relationships, as discussed separately (Towards a Periodic Table of Ways of Knowing -- in the light of metaphors of mathematics, 2009).
Of particular interest is that current mathematical understandings of such representation are increasingly obliged to take account of quantum mechanical perspectives with all that they imply for reframing what might be understood to be an "element" and how it engages with other elements (Denis H. Rouvray et al. The Mathematics of the Periodic Table, 2005). It is such insight which could prove beneficial to any process of reframing understanding of a "job" (as a form of employment) and how it engages with other modes of employment.
Non-linear learning: The reasonably well-known "periodicity" of the elements is notably useful in highlighting the non-linear (or non-mechanical) progression in learning relevant to employment and engagement with the world -- as typically recognized under the inchoate category of "experience" (see also Periodic Pattern of Human Knowing: implication of the Periodic Table as metaphor of elementary order, 2009), namely:
As one answer to the question at the end of the previous section, under conditions of "self-improvement", one may well be "trading" with other cells of any such pattern of metaphors -- "across the table", possibly framing the other cells as "sub-personalities".
Current social networking: In the light of the above, and the explosion of social networking technology and uptake, the question is to what extent such web facilitation enables and engenders engagement and employment. There is no question that it is "engaging" for many of those who have access to it. It may then constitute a significant mode of "employment", whether remunerated monetarily or not -- accepting that the tokens may well be virtual (as in Second Life). There is also no question that it enables formation of relationships, of whatever nature or duration. Many web facilities are open to those proposing employment opportunities or seeking them; they may also highlight potential matches for consideration.
Various generations of multi-user, online, interactive gaming -- whether text only MUDs or graphically enhanced MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) -- facilitate by various means the formation and management of competing groups (clans or guilds). Their objective may notably be to acquire virtual wealth (and associated status), however this is represented. It is not clear how far the preoccupation with "guild management" extends into a form of entrepreneurship generating employment. Membership and organization of such clans may be enabled by methods that reflect processes in the real world. In virtual environments and artificial worlds (as with Second Life) groups may also form in response to interests bearing no relationship to acquisition of token wealth.
Combining job seeking and group formation: It would appear, however, that there is a missing facility. This would be some combination of the existing "jobseeking" facilities and the "group formation" facilities -- given that the former is highlighly individualistic (focused on conventional remuneration), whereas the latter is concerned with the fomation of a viable group (typically focused on virtual wealth or psychic income). The question is what would be required to enable the emergence of a group which would engender employment -- most notably jobs that would lead to remuneration with conventional monetary tokens.
Some considerations might include:
Enabling self-organization: Whilst elements of such possibilities are already in operation (thus demonstrating their potential viability), a key requirement is to move beyond group formation around a specific seed theme or objective in order to enable:
Aspects of this are already designed into the processes of Second Life group
of thousands of groups are available with the "market" deciding how
individuals are assigned to groups -- possibly according to basic profiling. It
is unclear whether the assigning process is enabled by the kinds of matching
facilities evident in the more sophisticated jobsearch facilities. It is
also recognized that the current platform only allows an individual to participate
in a maximum of 25 groups. Participants can of course design themselves into
or out of such groups although it is less clear what is the nature of the
"learning" that is taking place: by the person, by the group (when the person
leaves), or by any enabling (neural network) software endeavouring to converge
on a better match with some other group (itself in its own learning process
regarding its membership needs).
Group evolution and emergence of entrepreneurship: The question is whether the existing enabling processes within virtual environments offer advantages in creating ever more viable groups over those in conventional face-to-face interaction -- where people do indeed select themselves in or out and the groups do evolve. However, it cannot be said of the latter that they can be upheld as exemplars of team achievement and maturation, with possible exceptions in sports, research groups, military, and meditation.
For example, can the virtual environment offer facilities to take actionable feedback from a group member indicating a desire to be in some group:
Can this happen on an ongoing basis so that groups are constantly
refining their membership, focus or dynamic according to what that group understands
to be "better" -- and so that people are able to identify groups of higher
quality (perhaps by analogy to those who have earned more wealth). Simply put,
how can more powerful attractors be engendered and become evident as such.
This requires that protocols are supportive of self-organization and not functioning in a "Big Brother" mode -- except to the extent that
someone says they want "out" of a given combination and "into" one with more of other specified characteristics, and that the choices are then offered. Clearly this is relatively easy when the choices are based/centered on simple categories ("seeds") but much subtler when the combinations are shifting configurations, with a group reframing what it is about over a period (filtering people / themes / energies in and out) and reframing the categories by which it might be provisionally labelled.
It is interesting that for current that the outcomes, for current participants in any such sophisticated (guild), self-organization may be felt to be are some very sophisticated group/team configurations.
Pre-web articulation: An early effort to articulate some of these possibilities, building on development of computerized dating facilities has necessarily been superceded by web-based social networking (Group Questing or Twelving, 1976). Nevertheless the arguments there regarding the use of software to facilitate construction and self-organization construction of more attractive groups remain of some relevance -- to the extent that these facilities are not well-developed in current explorations of social networking.
Polyhedral pattern language: The above considerations lend themselves to reinterpretation as the development and use of a pattern language for engendering employment -- by extension of the methodology of Christopher Alexander (A Pattern Language, 1977; The Timeless Way of Building, 1979). One suggestive possibility is indicated separately (A Five-fold Pattern Language, 1984).
The focus mentioned above highlights the role of polyhedra (as manipulated with the aid of graphics software) to hold the requisite variety of any viable array of roles through which employment might be engendered -- notably as the configuration is phased into an entrepreneurial mode. In a sense this is an extension of the patterning facilities used by Alexander, but understood here in non-material and multidimensional terms (as exemplified by topology). A key feature is the way in which topological considerations highlight the need to configure distinctions -- whether values, roles or skill-sets -- such that together they become attractive and psychoactively engaging (Topology of Valuing: psychodynamics of collective engagement with polyhedral value configurations, 2008).
Implications of gaming dynamics: Such considerations could translate back into the clan and guild considerations of online gaming -- to the extent that the features of any polyhedra are then variously understood as individuals or roles (with their links to others), subgroups, or the configurations of guilds into a larger whole. Properties of the polyhedra may be valuable to the sustainability and robustness of any such configuration (Polyhedral Empowerment of Networks through Symmetry: psycho-social implications for organization and global governance, 2008). The relevance of such virtual environments to engagement with real-world problems has been separately discussed (Playfully Changing the Prevailing Climate of Opinion: climate change as focal metaphor of effective global governance, 2005). The question is whether these could be extended into engendering other forms of employment, remunerated virtually or in real-world tokens.
Confidence containers as attractors: Also of relevance --, given the real-world preoccupations with confidence-building (as fundamental to engendering economic opportunities vital to employment) -- is whether such an approach creates containers or vehicles for confidence in an increasingly fragmented turbulent environment (Metaphors as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991). In this sense the configurations engendered through any such pattern language may fruitfully be understood as stories and narratives -- both by analogy to folktales and to larger epics, given the coherence they offer.
It is appropriate to appreciate that a polyhedral articulation of any collective initiative moves beyond the conventional approach to formulating "mission statements" in bulleted linear text, and beyond their further articulation through the construction of two-dimensional network, system or mind maps. The essence of an initiative then necessarily has other dimensions -- the polyhedral software currently enables manipulation of polyhedra in four dimensions -- enabling a richer sense of the coherence and focus of the whole, thereby enhancing its power as an attractor (Human Values as Strange Attractors: coevolution of classes of governance principles, 1993). The multi-facetted feature of such polyhedra recalls the special lens structure of a lighthouse, thereby offering an interesting metaphor -- given the predilection for "vision" metaphors.
Group evolution and transformation: Given that any initiative can best survive by recognizing the extent to which it needs to learn and adapt in a complex dynamic environment, the merit of any such pattern language is the manner in which it enables (notably with software support) both development and evolution of any particular configuration. It is important to recognize the extent to which any single polyhedron, whatever it is held to represent, is in effect embedded in a set of potential transformations to simpler and more complex forms -- some of much greater complexity, whatever their symmetry. These can be used to provide an attractive, comprehensible template for the evolution of psychosocial groups -- or their temporary transformation in response to particular circumstances.
The features of a polyhedra can then be variously used to hold the nature of "bonds" between people, roles or preoccupations -- recognizing that such bonds may be necessarily dynamic (rather than "set in stone"), and possibly more characterized by resonance. The credibility and stability of the structure as a whole may then rely on its nature as what in chemistry is termed a "resonance hybrid" -- of which the simplest are in fact fundamental to organic molecules and life (Conceptual Scaffolding and Prosthetics, 1995).
of different views of possible viable employment structures of the future
engendered through self-organizing processes in a virtual environment
(using Stella Navigator, as developed by Robert Webb)
(flat 2D version and
version partially folded into 3D structure on right)
(distinct roles associated with vertices;
distinct agendas associated with faces)
[click to view rotating GIF animation (1mb)]
Combination of Icosidodecahedron
triacontahedron (dual of Icosidodecahedron
(distinct agendas associated with vertices;
distinct roles associated with faces)
|Stellation diagram for Icosidodecahedron||Faceting diagram for Rhombic triacontahedron (above)|
The argument above highlights the manner in which notions of "employment" and "leisure" can usefully be experienced through a broader context of "engagement". This may be with any "other" in which "investment" may indeed be appropriate. In this sense many of the categories so well-elaborated by economics merit generalization -- possibly even to consideration of how a person may be "self-employed" or "employed" by the future. Rather than purely monetary, any "income" may then take the form of the credits implicit in LETS systems, tokens of virtual environments, or of a purely "psychic" form -- whether through employment in voluntary associations or as a consequence of some form of self-employment.
In his own explorations, Jeremy Rifkin (The Future of Work: rethinking employment in the 21st Century [video]) highlights the implications for redefining the role of the individual in a near workerless society -- seen as likely to be the single most pressing issue in the post-market era of the decades to come. He emphasizes the need to develop fresh alternatives to formal work as well as new approaches to providing income and purchasing power.
Of interest also is the influence of understandings of "employment" in other languages and sub-cultures. The Roma offer a current challenge in Europe. Indigenous peoples offer a continuing challenge in many former colonies. Cliff Goddard discusses the Pitjantjatjara / Yankunkunytjara peoples of central Australia (The Ethnopragmatics and Semantics of ‘Active Metaphors’, Journal of Pragmatics, 2004).
At a time when the peoples of today are becoming increasingly indebted to those of the future (expected to pay off current excesses), it is also of interest the extent to which people are now effectively "employed by the future", if only in a developmental and/or evolutionary sense (Being Employed by the Future: reframing the immediate challenge of sustainable community, 1996). This raises the question of how the future will see "jobs" in relation to "employment" and "engagement" in society and its development. The importance of the role of metaphor has been stressed and this may become increasingly central to such emergent understandings of coherence in a society threatened by fragmentation and collapse (Metaphors as Transdisciplinary Vehicles of the Future, 1991).
In relation to engendering future employment, also of relevance is the sense in which the future is itself "engendered" (Engendering the Future through Self-reflexive Group Initiatives, 2008). This is especially relevant in a social networking context (Future Generation through Global Conversation: in quest of collective well-being through conversation in the present moment, 1997). Of particular interest with respect to polyhedra as "containers" or "vehicles" is the sense in which -- beyond the "business incubator" metaphor currently favoured for engendering initiatives -- they may function as a form of "reactor", even a form of alchemical crucible. The design challenge for such containers is reminscent, in metaphorical terms, of that required for nuclear fusion (Enactivating a Cognitive Fusion Reactor: imaginal transformation of energy resourcing, 2008).
The coherence offered with polyhedra by the spherical metaphor, in contrast to others, is notably evident in relation to engagement with environmental challenges (Spherical Configuration of Categories -- to reflect systemic patterns of environmental checks and balances, 1994). However it is also potentially significant in relation to the challenges faced from a purely economic perspective, notably in the light of the the additional constraints imposed by triple bottom lines, and more (Spherical Accounting: using geometry to embody developmental integrity, 2004). But the generalization of the spherical metaphor, through the torus, offers further insights of potential relevance to psychological engagement (Comprehension of Requisite Variety for Sustainable Psychosocial Dynamics: transforming a matrix classification onto intertwined tori, 2006).
A related line of potential spherical insight is to be found in fullerenes -- the family of carbon allotropes, molecules composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow sphere, ellipsoid, or tube. As spheres they are also called buckyballs [image], the names being in honour of R Buckminster Fuller who worked so extensively on the applications of spherical polyhedra, notably in relation to planetary resources (Hugh Aldersey-Williams, The Most Beautiful Molecule: the discovery of the Buckyball, 1995). There is the curious possibility that the thinking required for the configuration of skills engendering engaging "full employment" might imply similar properties -- perhaps "fullermeans" rather than fullerenes (Understanding Sustainable Dialogue: the Secret within Bucky's Ball? 1996)
|Great Truncated Icosidodecahedron
(complexification to 120 vertices and 62 faces)
|Stellation of Great Truncated Icosidodecahedron
(complexification to 120 vertices and 62 faces)
Of fundamental importance, given the unavailability of "jobs" for the young -- even those most highly educated -- is the nature of the "engagement" with society that may prove to be appropriate and meaningful. This goes to the heart of the question raised by Rifkin of how the individual reframes a personal sense of identity in the turbulent context expected. This also raises fundamental questions of the possibility of entrapment of the kind only too evident in the frozen category of "job". Hence the relevance of seemingly more extreme perspectives (Being What You Want: problematic kataphatic identity vs. potential of apophatic identity? 2008). Also of relevance is the possibility for the "overqualified" to derive greater meaning from simpler jobs through subtly reframing them in ways of which others are not necessarily aware, as implied by various arguments for voluntary simplicity (Duane Elgin, Voluntary Simplicity: toward a way of life that is outwardly simple, inwardly rich, 1998).
Such considerations raise the possibility of considering that current disciplines and institutions of governance suffer from a cognitive "disease" that inhibits their capacity to make more effective use of metaphor to reframe the situation and introduce higher degrees of flexibility. One "disease" known for such a symptom is autism -- if only as Asperger Syndrome, namely "autism lite" (cf Memetic and Information Diseases in a Knowledge Society: speculations towards the development of cures and preventive measures, 2008). Arguably, given the manner in which collectively memory is so severely challenged, other collective pathological conditions could be considered (cf Societal Learning and the Erosion of Collective Memory -- a critique of the Club of Rome Report: No Limits to Learning, 1980).
If, as indicated above, online gaming environments are of some relevance to engagement with climate change, there is the curious possibility that the dynamics of the planetary water cycle (precipitation, evaporation, etc) may offer insights into the transitions between various conditions of engagement and employment in a knowledge-based society (as suggested by the phase diagram above). Psychoactive engagement may well prove to be based on other forms of cycle.
transformations of the icosidodecahedron (above)
Clues to engendering employment and engagement in the future?
|Representations of the swine influenza virus|
|Image from Wikipedia||Image from David Pollard|
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