This post is written in response to Kathryn Tanner’s third Gifford lecture for 2016, entitled ‘Total Commitment.’ It is part of her larger series, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, that is currently being delivered at the University of Edinburgh (May 2-12, 2016). I am working as the host for the Giffords blog, where I have posted summaries of the lectures as well as links to the lecture videos. The following combines my summary, which seeks to stay close to her own terms, with a critique I’ve since contributed to the discussion thread.
Kathryn Tanner begins by describing a corporation’s problem with securing ‘total commitment’ from its workers. A company’s controlling interest in maximising shareholder value means that each worker must provide constant, maximal intensity of effort in the pursuit of profit. It is so important to track, and motivate, such worker commitment that a company will even take on the costs of a surveillance system. Such monitoring can contribute to a worker’s motivation in that one fears for the security of one’s position or, alternately, hopes for an award of ‘recognition.’
These attempts fall short of engendering a worker’s entire commitment, however; ‘total’ compliance is required in order to maximise profit. Motivation through fear, or external reward, always leaves a space between the company’s demands and the worker’s commitment: one may prefer not to. The company could, then, try to ‘evacuate’ the will of the worker, creating machine-like responsiveness. Employees become a ‘blank interface,’ reacting only to the need of the moment (the call centre is a prime example of this). In such a scenario, the company pushes out ‘not just thought of anything else, but thought per se.’ …
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