For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Escaping the Fantasy Land of Freedom in Organizations: The Contribution of Hannah Arendt"

by Shymko, Yuliya; Frémeaux, Sandrine (2021)


This article examines why and how workers adhere and contribute to the perpetuation of the freedom fantasy induced by neoliberal ideology. We turn to Hannah Arendt's analysis of the human condition, which offers invaluable insights into the mechanisms that foster the erosion of human freedom in the workplace. Embracing an Arendtian lens, we demonstrate that individuals become entrapped in a libertarian fantasy-a condition enacted by the replacement of the freedom to act by the freedom to perform. The latter embodies the survivalist modus operandi of animal laborans (1) who renounces singularity, by focusing on the function of supervised labor, (2) who renounces solidarity, by focusing on individualist and competitive labor, and (3) who is deprived of spontaneity, by focusing on the measured productivity of labor. Therefore, we propose a new corporate governance perspective based on the rehabilitation of political action in organizations as the best way to preserve human capacity for singularity, solidarity, and spontaneity.

Key Passage

In the milieu of organizing, the neoliberal idea that the empowerment of workers is nothing more than a conversion from animal laborans to homo faber (e.g., entrepreneurial subjects or responsibility takers) is yet another manifestation of the freedom fantasy. Such conversion does not liberate individuals from the imperative of participating in the relations of economic production under strictly defined terms of performance evaluation and utility . Instead, true freedom of action is substituted with controllable freedom of performance—work is transformed into an unescapable form of oppression. The conditions for action—that is, the possibility to transcend the confines of prescribed organizational roles—are eliminated. Consequently, the lack of opportunity for transcendence makes freedom impossible (e.g., the difficulty to view workers in Foxconn factories or Amazon warehouses as ‘free’) (p.7)


Acting, Freedom Fantasy, Neoliberalism, Performing, Singularity, Solidarity, Spontaneity, Arendt


On Arendt

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