Friday, January 21, 2011

Personal prestige as strategic confusion

In Culture of New Capitalism Richard Sennett makes a good point about how prestige manifests itself in new precarious-labor world.
A child of privilege can afford strategic confusion, a child of the masses cannot. Chance opportunities are likely to come to the child of privilege because of family background and educational networks; privilege diminishes the need to strategize. Strong, extensive human networks allow those at the top to dwell in the present; the networks constitute a safety net which diminishes the need for long-term strategic planning. The new elite thus has less need of the ethic of delayed gratification, as thick networks provide contacts and a sense of belonging, no matter what firm or organization one works for. The mass, however, has a thinner network of informal
contact and support, and so remains more institution dependent. It’s sometimes said that the new technology can somewhat correct this inequality, electronic chatrooms and affinity groups supplying the information a young person would need to seize the moment. In the work world, at least at the moment, this is not the case. Face-to-face matters. This is why techies go to so many conventions, and, more consequently, why people working from home, connected to the office only by computer, so often are left out of informal decision gathering and decision making.

A key question is whether online social networks like Facebook have changed this at all. I suspect Facebbok reinforces weak ties for the masses and makes their potentially strong ties weaker; that makes existing strong social-capital ties of the privileged relatively stronger -- they have "real" connections instead of the generalized fake ones materialized online. Friendship itself becomes a class privilege, a class marker; everyone else is left with competing brands and strategic partnerships.

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