Responses to job loss <very long>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Fri, 22 Mar 1996 22:14:19 +0900

Dear Friends,

Since the power and patriarchy threads seem to be
unraveling, I would like to introduce a new subject. I
have mentioned before, I recall, that I am putting
together a research project to examine the responses of
Japanese and American white-collar workers to losing
their jobs. The continued decimation of the middle class
by corporate and government downsizing makes the
theme a timely one. It is also an opportunity to test the
significance of cultural factors on how people respond to
the same problems in culturally different places. Here I
would like to invite your feedback on some first ideas
about things I ought to be looking at. Critical and analytic
comments will, of course, be welcome. Better still will be
ethnographic observations from as many different places
as possible.

My research to date has uncovered a vein of theory in
the literature of management and organizational
behavior. For the most part it invokes what are seen as a
universal psychological process of dealing with grief and
loss. Stage one is shock and disorientation; stage two
anger; stage three depression. Stage four can be either
the mobilization of resources and formulation of plans
that lead to a new job, starting a new businesses, or
beginning an entirely new career or, alternatively, or a
deepening depression that leads to dropping out. As
anthropologists we may certainly wonder if the process
just described is, in fact, universal or, if it is, if cultural
factors shape the duration and quality of response in
each phase in different ways.

We will also know that how individuals can respond to
losing their jobs will depend on the economic and social
capital on which they can draw. There is clearly
intracultural variation. Among both Japanese and
Americans there are those who have saved and invested
and have an economic cushion to fall back on. There are
others who have spent whatever they have earned and
will be hard-pressed if they lose their current source of
income. Still a case can be made for cultural variation.
Stereotypically, at least, Japanese save more and more
consistently than Americans do.

One type of social capital is networks of friends and
relations to whom a person can turn for help. These can
be broad or narrow and composed of strong or weak
bonds. Again, stereotypically, I think of overseas Chinese
as people with broad, strong networks; Japanese with
narrow but fairly strong networks; Americans with broad
networks whose links are weak.

Another type of social capital is saleable skills. Some
Japanese I've spoken to estimate that as many as 90% of
Japanese salarymen will be unable to cope with losing
their current jobs. As generalists they will be thrown into
a market place with millions of others with similar skills,
and their only specialized knowledge is of how their
former companies do business.

All this leads to the question whether those who lose
their jobs will become politically active, and, if so, what
form their politics will take. The nightmare scenario is
the Weimar Republic, where the collapse of the middle
class led direclty to the rise of the Nazis and WWII. There
may be other possibilities.

Eagerly awaiting your responses,

John McCreery
March 22, 1996