Sunday, March 29, 2015

"Cubed" by Nikil Saval: A Novel History of the Place of Work

This is one of those books that ended up getting a good bit of press because it was a novel way of looking at something that is an everyday thing.

The way that white collar workers do their work didn’t just happen that way, but it was a result of deliberate choices – from the architecture of the buildings that the work is done in to the furniture that the workers sit on. I hadn’t thought too deeply about it, thinking that the way things are was just a bit like the way things were, only with computers. I was wrong, and Saval tracks the changes, focused on the United States from the industrial revolution on. The white-collar worker has not been devoid of the standardization and alienation that the blue-collar worker had and rebelled against. The white-collar worker just never saw their white-collar chains; instead, they looked up, hoping to move up the ladder (no matter how false that metaphor is or was). 

The potential for striving has, writ large, been the barrier to class to recognition of the white-collar worker for generations. The lack of upward mobility except for into the white-collar ranks is what led to unionism and workers improving their lots. The myth of upward mobility in white-collar terms is a form of social control that is not readily seen.

Saval tracks this, and it makes me think if this has been a deliberate move. As production has been mechanized, there are fewer production workers and more support staff in ancillary roles to production. As more workers move out of production and the workforce is more and more professionalized, white-collar membership is the mass of workers. It is the cube that keeps them apart and alienated. Maybe it is a prison of sorts.


I’m not part of this at all.

My office has a door.