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Moritz Erhardt's tragic death as an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in August 2013 provides an illustration of the cultural intensity and complexity that has come to imbue internships in higher education degree schemes. We offer an analysis of internships as part of a wider process of dissemination and proliferation of managerial vocabularies and images that underpin certain hyper-performative practices that permeate the powerful cultures stimulated by and sustained in many organizations. We analyze the cultural ground from which such practices might be seen to arise and present an interpretation of how certain " positive " themes and motifs—such as " potentiality " , " self-expression " , or " self-realization " —can become dangerous. These categories become dangerous once they are constituted as ideal measures of an unattainable level of performativity which can then become destabilizing and disorienting for any individual's sense of self. In this sense, the paper contributes to the growing body of literature investigating the significance of internships in the new cultures of work characterizing the broader context of neoliberalism.
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What Killed Moritz Erhardt? Internships and the Cultural
Dangers of “PositiveIdeas
Bogdan Costea*, Peter Watt**, and Kostas Amiridis*
*Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK; **York St John University, York, UK;
Abstract: Moritz Erhardt’s tragic death as an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in August 2013
provides an illustration of the cultural intensity and complexity that has come to imbue internships in
higher education degree schemes. We offer an analysis of internships as part of a wider process of
dissemination and proliferation of managerial vocabularies and images that underpin certain hyper-
performative practices that permeate the powerful cultures stimulated by and sustained in many or-
ganizations. We analyze the cultural ground from which such practices might be seen to arise and
present an interpretation of how certain positive themes and motifssuch as potentiality”,self-
expression”, or self-realization”—can become dangerous. These categories become dangerous once
they are constituted as ideal measures of an unattainable level of performativity which can then be-
come destabilizing and disorienting for any individual’s sense of self. In this sense, the paper contrib-
utes to the growing body of literature investigating the significance of internships in the new cultures of
work characterizing the broader context of neoliberalism.
Keywords: internships, management, performativity, employability, self-actualization, self-realization, potential,
work culture, soft capitalism
1. Introduction
This paper begins with a section discussing the tragic episode in which an intern lost his life
in a direct attempt to demonstrate his passion and commitment to a financial institution in
order to secure a future position in it. In the second part (sections 2 and 3), we analyze how
internships have become part of a much more extensive cultural process in which manage-
ment vocabularies and images seek to mobilize certain values and inclinations that reach
deep into the sensibilities of the current young generations. Finally, in sections 4 and 5, we
provide an interpretation of how management is able to use broader cultural motifs and
tendencies in such a way that they become indistinguishable from two central values of our
time:self-expressionand self-realization(see also Rose 1999a, 103-119).
We consider the ways in which internships have become regimes connecting certain cul-
tural ideals and promises that have the capacity to mobilize extreme forms of practical en-
gagement with work and organizations. Even though internships may appear to be relatively
limited episodes of a working life, we will try to show how they are part of a cultural process
in which management and business constitute ways of defining what an individual might be
worth, and thus how management ideas play an increasingly subtle and far-reaching role in
relation to the self.
In an extensive autobiographical interview, the distinguished philologist George Steiner
made a comment, which seemed (and still seems), at first sight, to capture very well a sense
of loss of cultural direction and a disoriented system of values:
The young in Europe have never been as hopeless [] [They have] no sense of an ide-
ology, no sense of any political or utopian future [] Never forget that if you don’t commit
great creative mistakes when you’re young the rest of your life is largely wasted. You
have at least lived the essential passion of commitment which should be that of the
young. There is nothing of the kind today. Nobody is going to die for a hedge-fund, no-
body is going to die for the enormous entertainment industries, for the mass media, for
the athletic worshipwhich is all the young have. (Steiner 2007)
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It seems so unproblematic to agree with Steiner’s comment and its formulation. It seems
especially easy to grasp the idea of an unwillingness to die for what amounts to a set of
hollow cultural objects and institutional sites which claim exclusive attention and yet are just
as easy to dismiss on grounds of their apparent worthlessness. And yet, we will try to argue,
there is a serious danger accompanying this very manner of dismissing a cultural process
that seems, despite its alleged vacuity, to be still able to mobilize the energies of contempo-
rary youth. Who would declare his or her willingness to die for a hedge-fund”? Probably not
a single individual.
Nonetheless, to take this statement at its face value would also leave out, in our view, the
other side of the phenomenon Steiner seeks to elucidate: the fact that all those hollow, empty
sites currently claiming the passion and commitment of the young are actually capable of
mobilizing something that Steiner does not account for, namely, their power to take individu-
als willingly to the limit of their own capacities. Steiner appears unable to see that hedge-
funds, entertainment products, and certainly the manifold forms of advertising and social me-
dia are capable of formulating a new kind of promise which can, in the current cultural con-
text, become the ground for intense, passionate, and dangerous personal engagement (see
also Ewen 2008). What Steiner overlooks is that these institutional and discursive sites are
permeated and sustained by a political orientation which, whilst not conforming to the tradi-
tional forms he invokes, has nevertheless become an equally powerful force in the mobiliza-
tion of youth and its energies towards an “essential passion of commitment.”
In the spirit of Michel Foucault’s (1970; 1980) and Nikolas Rose’s (1999a; 1999b) anal-
yses of the rise of neoliberal regimes of power, however, we argue that the system of ideas
circulating throughout the sphere of management has acquired far more subtle and danger-
ous forms of dissemination and communication. The domain of internships, as one instance
amongst many, shows how a set of discursive themes (such as potentiality, performativity,
self-development, or self-actualization) makes possible not only the diffusion of their own
power throughout the culture of work organizations, but their very insertion in the private,
intimate domain of the self (also discussed by Gregg 2011, albeit with a different focus). As
shown by Rose, the context of employment has come to be precisely a place where “[t]he
division of work and life has not only become blurred at the level of reality, it has also be-
come permeable at the level of images and strategies” (1999b, 158). The result has been the
rise of a performative culture that surrounds work but also goes well beyond it, certainly now
in the culture of higher education, a culture characterized by “a more dispersed, but more
intensive, inscription of the obligation to work into the soul of the citizen, not a reduction of
the principle or ethic of work but, in many ways, its intensification” (ibid.).
Perhaps what makes graduate internships notable, as part of the contemporary labour
market, is the way in which they illustrate Karl Marx’s intuition that the production of value in
the work process comes to be displaced, in the context of modern capitalism, from the pro-
duction of “direct use values” and “subjugated”, in its “every moment”, to “exchange” as such
(Marx 1973, 408). Whilst we cannot fully develop this aspect here, it is important to make this
insight explicit. It indicates a way in which it becomes clearer how pure performativity in
work—in other words, the pure acting out of the appearance of workbecomes the basis
upon which the value of work is perceived and ascertained. In Marx’s understanding, “Com-
merce [] appears here [] as an essentially all-embracing presupposition and moment of
production itself (ibid.). “Exchange”, expressed in “commerce” as an overwhelming feature
of capitalism, becomes the manner in which performativity begins to dominate the under-
standing of value in the current context of capitalism and thus becomes a defining parameter
of work as such.
2. The Case of Moritz Erhardt
At 8:30pm on Thursday, 15 August 2014, Moritz Erhardt, a twenty-one year old student intern
at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, was found dead in the bathroom of his shared accommo-
dation in London, England. Colleagues raised the alarm when Erhardt did not turn up for a 2
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pm meeting that day (Day 2013). The cause of Erhardt’s death was eventually considered
unsuspicious and has since been understood as the result of an epileptic seizure, a seizure
believed by the coroner investigating the case to have been triggered by a prolonged lack of
sleep (Kennedy 2013).
Erhardt was a German student from Staufen who, at the time of his death, was coming to
the end of a seven-week placement with the bank. Toward the end of his summer internship,
Erhardt decided to work three days and nights in a row (roughly 21 hours of 24) in order to
show his commitment in the hope that he will be offered a full-time position at the end of his
studies. This hope has been captured by the notion of “hope labor” by Kathleen Kuehn and
Thomas Corrigan (2013, 9), which explores the inherent tensions between working in the
present for free”, as it were, in the hope that “future employment opportunities may follow.”
Unaware that he had already shown himself to be so capable that the bank was indeed pre-
paring to offer him a full-time job as a £45,000 per year analyst after his graduation, Erhardt
engaged in a practice well-known amongst interns and other employees in the sector: the
Over a 72-hour period, he got a taxi back from the office to his flat in Bethnal Green, east
London, at around 5am each morning. He would then shower briefly before returning to
his desk. This exhausting ritual is known in banking circles as the magic roundabout”—
so-called because the taxi driver will sometimes wait outside while an intern washes, puts
on a fresh shirt and re-emerges blinking in the dawn light. (Day 2013)
In another report, a fellow intern “claimed that Mr. Erhardt ‘[] apparently pulled eight all-
nighters in two weeks. They get you working crazy hours and maybe it was just too much for
him in the end’” (Gallagher 2013).
The reports of Erhardt’s death did not have much to go on other than the subsequent
interpretations offered by those who knew him; however, these too are limited by the fact that
Erhardt was not doing anything new within the work culture characterizing this particular
bank, nor was his own tendency to work long hours new in itself: Users of the popular fi-
nance blog insisted Mr. Erhardt regularly worked long hours, with his
final three days consisting of 21-hour stints in the office(Gallagher 2013). Moreover, nothing
out of the ordinary was noted perhaps also because Erhardt did not declare his condition to
anybody around him in London, including his employers. Jürgen Schroeder, Erhardt’s Devel-
opment Officer at the bank, told the inquest that no one at the bank had been aware of the
intern’s history of epilepsy. He told the inquiry that Erhardt was highly rated, well-liked, and
was going to be offered a job, adding that “he had hinted as much to Erhardt the day before
he died” (Malik 2013).
The reports noted that Erhardt was a bright and handsome young man who had a tenden-
cy to work hard and party equally hard. His father, Hans-Georg Dieterle, a psychoanalyst and
“life coach”, warned him about the possibility of exhaustion, “but, like many young people,
Moritz took parental advice lightly” (Day 2013). Yet this was no simple adolescent refusal;
rather, his father explained, Erhardt was moved by a more fundamental sense of good inten-
tion: “He wasn’t just interested in the money. He wanted to do good in the world. Ive been
sorting through some of his things and I found a quote from Marilyn Monroe hed made a
note of which went, ‘I dont want to make money, I just want to be wonderful,’” his father said
However, the reports note that his father told everyone that the bank’s staff could not have
been more supportive in the aftermath of Erhardts death, and that he does not blame them
for not spotting the warning signs earlier. If there was any sense of anger, Mr. Dieterle said,
“it would only be with Moritz for not having taken care of himself” (ibid.):
He can imagine, he says, that part of what Moritz loved about the work was the intensity
and the esprit de corps that developed during those long days and nights in the office. He
compares it to the endorphin rush experienced by long-distance runners or mountaineers
who push themselves to climb further without oxygen. The bank wasnt exploiting his son,
he insists. Instead, Moritz “was exploiting himself.” (ibid.)
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This analogy was professed in a similar way by a Deutsche Bank executive interviewed for
the Harvard Business Review: “My work gives me this adrenalin rush. Like a drug, it’s irre-
sistible and addictive” (Hewlett 2007). This tendency to respond to the demands of highly
pressured roles by participating in long-hour cultural regimes of work has been categorized
as “extreme work” (Hewlett and Luce 2006). Internships have become part of this tendency
and the reports following Erhardt’s case have revealed the widespread nature of long work-
ing hours and its close connection with high levels of competitiveness amongst interns and
graduates. Erhardt was indeed seen by those around him precisely in this light: he was de-
scribed by them as a superstar (Malik 2013); but he also saw himself in these terms:
according to his biography on the social media platform Seelio, Erhardt had spoken about his
highly competitive and ambitious natureand shown all the outward signs of wanting to be a
high achiever and driving himself to that end(Malik 2013).
However, what emerged at the same time was that the culture of long hours and the more
extreme practices that arise from it are not rejected by those who engage in them, rather
they often stem from their own initiative and are not elements of formal management sys-
One City intern, who wanted to be known only as Alex, told the Guardian that working for
more than 100 hours was normal, but said that despite the pressures he and other interns
enjoyed the experience. “On average, I get four hours sleep about 70% of the time
[but] there are also days with eight hours of sleep”, Alex said. “Work-life balance is bad.
We all know this going in. I guess thats the deal with most entry level jobs these days.”
He added that despite the amount of time spent in the office, he “enjoyed it greatly.”
Alex said it was not uncommon for interns to leave the office in the small hours in a
cab only to have it wait outside their flat while they showered, changed and returned to
the office. But he said that the practice, known as the magic roundabout”, was an exer-
cise in comradeship. “Its more like a college all-nighter; everybody has to do it. It is more
fun that way.”
Abdurrahman Moallim, 21, a recent intern at a major multinational bank, said there
was an element of one-upmanship involved in working flat-out. “All-nighters are often
worn as a badge of honorits common for interns to brag in the morning about the long
hours theyve worked the night before. Everybody wants to show they have what it takes
to succeed in an industry which demands stamina.” (Malik 2013)
In the end, perhaps the key comments remain those of Erhardt’s father: he saw in Erhardt’s
death an expression of an internal drive expressing his son’s own sense of personal direction
and aspiration. But is it all that simple to interpret what happened to Moritz Erhardt and to
see the significance of his passing? Erhardt’s intense involvement in his summer internship
seems to have been more than a mere exception. Rather, he internalized an overpowering
culture of performance whose dynamic is much more equivocal than could be deciphered if
we allow his drama to remain understood as a mere industrial accident.” The entanglement
of self-declared personal aspirations with cultures of extreme office work encouraged by cor-
porate institutions in various sectors makes the question what killed Moritz Erhardt?” not as
simple as any one-sided answer might make it seem: Was Erhardt exploited by the banking
sector? Or did Erhardt exploit himself? The problem is that both these questions are not
helpful in this formulation. Both presuppose a known subject (either the bank, or Erhardt) and
a known predicate (exploitation); and both presuppose that it is possible to operate a clear
separation between one subject and the other, between one sphere of interests and the oth-
er; both can be reduced in fact to the formulation: Who killed Moritz Erhardt?And this is the
most tempting one, because it is the simplest: it provides a crime and a victim. To such a
question there can be but a single answer, one predicated moreover upon an unequivocal
logic: as the victim of an institutional practice, Erhardt can only be innocent. Once the culprit
is found, the complexity of conditions that made possible the entire story would disappear
leaving a simple, cleansing, and redeeming picture in its stead. We would then know”, as it
were, who is to blame, who is goodand who is bad.” Unsurprisingly, in the current circum-
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stances, the reports of the case in the ensuing months were clear: the bank and the financial
sector are responsible for generating and tolerating a culture of work around internships and
early graduate career positions which allow rather punishing forms of individual behaviour.
More importantly, that whowould be confined to a particularity, to a singular context in
which an error of judgment occurred and which then requires a correction. Erhardt’s case
would not represent usthen, and by us we mean a more universal set of possible condi-
tions and values in the name of which, to speak against Steiner’s statement, there may well
be a form of more generalized willingness to “die for a hedge-fund.” In other words, we will
try to show that simply asking the question who killed Moritz Erhardt?in order to dispense
with this particular case would be to miss the opportunity to ask instead what killed Moritz
Erhardt?We argue that this would provide a different kind of starting point in an interpreta-
tion of the conditions of possibility that seem to bring together and align to a significant cul-
tural extent, the values and orientations of interns and graduates such as Erhardt, with the
values and orientations of corporate cultures. In other words, one of the questions which
seems to us to be equally legitimate, following on from Erhardt’s tragic experience, can be
formulated in the following terms: what were the conditions in which he took himself to the
limit, and how was an internship the place of testing boundaries, rather than adhering to
3. Unlimited Plenitude” as an Underlying Feature of Internship Culture
The answers to these questions can take various forms. On the one hand, it can be argued
that Erhardt’s tragic end was driven by a specific and unfortunate set of physio-pathological
factors, combined with a failure on his behalf to manage his own physical condition, or to ask
for help. On the other hand, it can also be argued that it was a failure of the work organiza-
tion to provide systems of containment of possibly harmful exertion: a system of time man-
agement, perhaps. In both cases, Erhardt’s case would be regarded as an unfortunate “in-
dustrial accident”—an accident caused by a badly managed system of production. It is im-
portant to note that these possible responses have one thing in common: the premise that
something was lacking, that there was an oversight somewhere or otherthat systems of
collective and individual management have failed.
However, we propose it is worthwhile exploring what might be revealed if we change this
premise and look at this case from a different angle. Instead of trying to find the dangers
caused by failures and shortcomings of management systems, we suggest that it is just as
important to analyze the dangers of those cultural processes in which new management dis-
courses and communications processes succeed. That means that we might be witnessing,
in the case of Erhardt, the outcome of a particular way in which managerial themes have
succeeded in positing and proliferating an image of work and human resourcefulness
through which an individual is aligned to an ideal type characterized by what might be termed
unlimited plenitude. As we seek to illustrate in this section, management vocabularies and
images surrounding internships and graduate jobs have grown to an unprecedented extent
precisely around the themes of plenitude. As we have shown elsewhere (Costea, Amiridis,
and Crump 2012), the motifs of individual potentiality, performativity, and perfectibility suffuse
the culture of graduate work. Unlimited plenitude aims to capture what Foucault termed a
discursive “strategy”: a “theme” (rather than a “concept”) which connects the different ways in
which various media channels construct an idealized image of the intern as a subject who is
not only characterized by an abundance of potential and possibilities, but is also driven by a
sense that this abundance can and indeed must be endlessly sustained (Foucault 1972, 64).
The word plenitude comes from the Latin plenus which means full and from which de-
rives the word plenitudo which denotes completeness and abundance (Lewis and Short
1879, 13861387). It is important to pause upon these two meanings. As we will try to show
in this section, our argument is that what happened to Erhardt was not simply an experience
of his own selfas being abundantly full of possibilities. Rather, it is not only that he thought
of himself as abundantly capable of handling work to the limit, but it might be the case of a
more subtle and more crucial cultural mechanism that triggered Erhardt’s carelessness with
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himself and his condition: the idea that he can actually go beyond the limit. What he seems
to have succumbed to is a mentality whose ground is that he can hold and live in the name of
the idea that he has no limits, that there is always moreto be brought out, actualized, from
the plenitude of his potential. Erhardt did not feel complete, formed, fullhe rather seems to
have felt compelled by, and towards, a far more dangerous horizon: a horizon through which
managerialism has succeeded to represent work as a form of ultimate self-empowerment,
self-expression, and self-realization. This is an argument pursued by Kathi Weeks (2011) in
her analysis of the ways in which work is not simply represented as a necessity, but also as a
good in itself: working more, performing more, means at the same time a chance to be-
come more involved with the so-called realizationof one’s possibilities.
How can we explain this success of managerial culture? How could management themes
of such dangerous and tragic intensity have become so subtly inserted in the context of in-
ternships and graduate positions? Erhardts life and death thus enable another kind of ques-
tion: not just how many failures of management can be detected here, but rather how can we
understand the very success of managerial, organizational, and societal cultures which is
expressed in their ability to reach into the deepest recesses of the modern soul, into its very
sense of mortality?
A further comment must be added here. The first internal response of the bank Erhardt
worked for was to set up a panel of senior managers to review the entire case. The out-
comes of this review were presented in a memo to staff sent on 10 January 2014 in which
Bank of America Merrill Lynch begins to address the question of how to maintain its effec-
tivenesswhilst finding some way of limiting the work regime driven by the bank’s culture and
practices (Wright 2014). The memo appears, unsurprisingly, confined to some measures of
work reduction, further support for work-life balancing”, and obligatory days off. However
well-intended these measures might be, what appears to be at stake here is not a failure of
management systems and principles. In fact, the problem organizations such as this bank
face is not their inability to motivate”, but their excessive ability to mobilize the will to work:
empowerment”, it seems, is not lackingit is, it seems, all too successful.
In order to understand how internships have become so important, it is necessary to con-
textualize their growth in the context of the rise of the graduateas a central dimension of
the corporate labour market. Over the last two decades, the graduatehas become a recur-
rent figure and a core motif in management discourses and in contemporary culture more
broadly. Significant efforts in official public policy, both in the old economies of the West,
but also in the emerging economies of the East and South, have made the idea of having (at
least) a higher education degree as an almost sine qua non condition of full participation in
what began to be projected in the 1990s by highly prominent political and business figures
around the world as the coming society of knowledge”—termed variously as the information
superhighway(first coined by Al Gore Jr. in 1978), Infobahn in German circles, a concept
which settled later in the much broader and more significant concepts of knowledge econo-
myand knowledge society”. The extent of the importance of these terms for the evolution of
the graduate became manifest in targeted policies to increase numbers of school leavers
joining higher education, of which one of the more notorious examples was New Labour’s
promise in the 1997 Manifesto for the General Election that half of eighteen year olds to go
into university studies” (Labour Party, Great Britain 1997).
As management circles also became intensely preoccupied with capturing the rise of what
appears to be the new economy(Drucker 1994, 2002; Böhme and Stehr 1986; Nonaka and
Takeuchi 1995; Castells 2011), an important organizational trend became established: the
steady separation of a new system of job allocation for graduates and the consolidation of
graduate schemes across all sectors of activity and industry. This consolidation took place
through the steady growth of the graduate scheme as a new form of employment, whose
explicit focus is the graduate(see, for example, one of the core sources in Europe and the
UK: Birchall 2011; 2013). These are a kind of apprenticeship programme structured through
a combination of work and training and are targeted to recent graduates. They are highly
competitive, operating in the context of a normal open labour market. They are offered main-
ly by large employers; they may last for a period of three months to three years, and, on suc-
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cessful completion, the incumbents normally tend to be offered permanent positions and
sometimes a professional qualification. In many sectors of the economy, private and public
organizations, large, medium, or small, now follow this path and generate such schemes to
the extent that they have now become nearly obligatory elements of employment policies
and practices. Companies vie for the attention of graduatesin various contexts and espe-
cially seek to take this new form of labour market competition to the university campus itself.
In this context, internships become an almost obligatory point of passage towards a graduate
job. In fact, in many cases the internship is a necessary condition for any realistic chance of
securing employment.
Some of the most recent available data show that this pattern of employment becomes of
further importance to any future graduate through the fact that 40 percent of all job offers in
these highly sought-after schemes (e.g., Aldi, Accenture, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, but
also the Civil Service in the UK, or charities such as Cancer Research UK) are made through
internships that are part of degree programs (Paton 2014). This trend is significant because it
has led to the emergence of a cultural machinery of promotion and recruitment, which has, in
turn, generated an inextricable entanglement of work and study. This extensive preoccupa-
tion with work, rather than the preoccupation with study as such, has accompanied the rise of
the graduateas a figure of prime importance even before university studies are concluded.
It is in this reordering of priorities that internships have come to occupy such a prominent
place in the expectations of both students and academic institutions themselves, and is cen-
tral to what has come to be known as employability”.
4. Internships in the Culture of Soft Capitalism
From every corner of secondary school career advisory services, colleges and universities,
from various notice boards and websites, to family dinner tables, as much as in governmen-
tal policy documents, current generations of students are surrounded by the exhortation to
pursue academic study as a path to becoming employable, as well as a path towards a
promised future of personal development, self-actualization, and success. Rebecca Boden
and Maria Nedeva note that the narrow sense of what a graduate has to do to become em-
ployable in terms of “simply gaining and retaining fulfilling work” has been superseded by an
expanded sense seized upon by Lee Harvey as “the propensity of the graduate to exhibit
attributes that employers anticipate will be necessary for the future effective functioning of
their organization” (Harvey 2000 in Boden and Nedeva 2010). And there is no shortage of
statements that describe and display these attributes, so much so that it can be argued that
the images of the ideal type that comes under the label graduate”, and which includes the
culture of internships as its preliminary stage, have come to constitute a media genre in itself
both in management discourses and in popular culture.
The proliferation of these images is relatively new in its intensity and omnipresence. It
seems to have emerged over the last decade or so. Yet the complexity of this genre and its
manifold forms of expression has grown to such an extent that they became key reference
points for what it might mean to have the sense not just of work, but of a worthwhile lifeas
a whole. This sui generis media genre takes multiple forms: highly complex job advertise-
ments, even more complex internet recruitment campaigns, dedicated collections of job and
internship opportunities (see, for example, The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers annual
collections), specialized consultancies and counselling publication series, dedicated news-
paper columns, but also school and university employabilityservices, and its apparatus is
self-disseminating in the sphere of social media. This plethora of means is suffused with im-
ages of work and personal success whose status has now become iconic. Through the diffu-
sion of such images, texts, and practices, the graduateis configured as an ideal of personal
achievement and, more importantly, as a process of self-development and self-realization.
The promises made by management discourses are significant and have already weighty
cultural consequences.
A survey of these cultural effects has been produced by Carina Paine and Sue Honore for
the Institute of Leadership & Management at the Ashridge Business School in 2011 (Paine
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and Honore 2011). It follows a series of previous analyses of the cultural phenomenon
termed Generation Yby the two authors. In this survey, Paine and Honore outline a series
of themes that provide important starting points for thinking about the nature of the ideal type
of the internand the graduatein the contemporary imagination.
To begin with, Paine and Honore identify a tendency to expect that higher education de-
grees will offer a particular life direction and enable the definition of a path in life. Students
and aspirants enroll in higher education programs thinking that the process will uncover nu-
merous possibilities for both career growth and for a direction in life. They show that current
generations of students and graduates are strongly motivated not just by salary levels but
also and especially by “status and career advancement, and expect rapid progress in these
areas” (ibid., 2). Such expectations are significant in terms of their intensity and rhythm of
career mobility. They found that “56% of graduates expect to be in a management role within
three years of starting work, while 13% of graduates expect a management role within a
year” (ibid.). Inevitably, they also found that more than a third of graduates find their sense of
direction somewhat confounded by the limits of organizational environments with respect to
such expectations. The impression that being a graduate, especially on a management train-
ing scheme, ought to be accompanied by an almost automatic entitlement to promotion,
power, and authority is not, indeed could not be, borne out by entry-level positions, yet a
sense of entitlement appears to be more prevalent amongst members of Generation Y than
The second core aspect of Generation Y’s expectations of work is “a high degree of free-
dom and autonomy” in organizational settings: Graduates want their organizations to: re-
spect and value them (43%); support them with career progression (36%); trust them to get
on with things (35%); and communicate well with them (34%) (ibid., 3). This is combined
with the expectation that organizational membership functions more in a cultural paradigm of
friendship rather than mere hierarchical authority. Paine and Honore found that graduates of
Generation Y prefer to see their superiors as coaches, mentors, and friends: “Graduates’
ideal manager is a coach/mentor (56%) or friend (21%) rather than someone who directs
(8%) or examines and audits (2%)” (ibid., 2–3). Moreover, the high expectations of personal
progress in work are combined with the tendency to see the future in terms of high mobility.
Students today, whilst being broadly engaged at work, are not offering “long-term commit-
ment to their employer, with most looking to move on within two years” (ibid., 3). The expec-
tation of personal independence and unrestrained mobility in employment is, at the same
time, combined with the demand that every organization will provide respect and trust as well
as open and friendly communication and relationships. Paine and Honore conclude with an
essential point: the images of what it means to be a graduate, of what work as a graduate
entails, and of the general horizon of personal life and progresshave come to be shaped by
a sense of “ambition, expectations and focus on the self [that] are part of Generation Y’s fun-
damental make-up” (ibid.). In essence, whilst not explored explicitly in the report, Paine and
Honore’s work can be interpreted as showing how the cultural expectations of students tend
to revolve around four core themes: the sense of a promised path through life, the sense of
freedom as a promise and requirement to feel fulfilled”, the expectation of personal pro-
gressas a constant feature of graduatelife, and the ambiguous sense that to be a gradu-
ate becomes both a source of inexhaustible personal mobility as well as the platform for
always finding a homeanywhere where life might take an individual (i.e., the sense that
organizations can be expected to function as contexts of trust, respect, and friendship). How
did such complex and overestimated expectations come about? What processes prepared
their emergence?
To answer such questions, it is important to return to Paine and Honore’s survey in which
certain aspects of the phenomenon they describe cannot, by the nature of their research, be
either apprehended or interpreted within their own empirical data collection process (2011).
Their survey focuses the attention on students as isolated participants responding from with-
in an individual’s own sense of the present. The response appears to represent the respond-
ent’s consciousness over and against a broader context from which he or she is separated.
The effect of this positioning is that the image generated by the research frames and focuses
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responses as purely interior reflections and perceptions. As a consequence, the authors
make an important argument: they focus on the apparent gap between the expectations of
Generation Y and those of their managers and organizations. The outcome is that students’
expectations are characterized by a novelty that both surprises and confounds the expecta-
tions of their future institutions. It seems that Generation Y brings with it an unprecedented
kind of cultural matrix in which a new set of values, ideas, and attitudes are manifest. The
authors thus run the risk of missing a key cultural dimension of their research: namely, that
the responses provided by Generation Y graduates are not separate from, and simply inter-
nal to, this demographic group. They are not separated from the broader culture of manage-
ment which has emphasized over the last several decades precisely the values that Genera-
tion Y now embraces in relation to work. This is evident in the authors’ conclusion noted
above: “ambition, expectations and focus on the self are part of Generation Y’s fundamental
make-up” (ibid.).
If this is the case, then this conclusion almost inevitably draws attention to the continuity of
values shared between Generation Y and its predecessors, rather than to a gap between
them. A more systematic picture of the relationship of continuity between Generation Y, con-
temporary cultural values as a whole, as well as managerial values and tropes in the last
three decades is drawn by Paul Heelas (2002). He explores the way in which the values de-
scribed above as specific to Generation Y actually developed throughout the latter half of the
20th century as part of a much deeper cultural process characterizing secularized modernity.
Heelas demonstrates, using Tipton’s analysis of four styles of ethical evaluation and their
transformation since the 1960s (Tipton 1984), that the current period is characterized by a
turn both in culture as a whole as well as in management thinking towards what Heelas
terms “the ethics of self-work” (Heelas 2002, 79), the ethics of the expressivist culture of the
self that became dominant in the last four or five decades. The “focus on the self” noted by
Paine and Honore is thus correct but their interpretation as a novelty is historically inaccu-
rate. As Heelas shows, the focus on the self is a tendency that runs deeper in contemporary
Westernized culture, which begins to explain more precisely why Generation Y’s attitudes
towards, and expectations of, work are not split from the existing cultural context. Exploring
the meaning of the “ethics of self-work”, Heelas shows that it initiates a specific mode of
thinking, or mentality, regarding what it means to be an individual today.” He shows that the
sources of both authority and value rest with the self”, as seen in the following light:
Not the self as constituted by consumer culture, but the self as a self which considers it-
self to be something more, something much deeper”, more natural and authentic than
the self of what is taken to be involved with the superficialities of the merelymaterialis-
tic-cum-consumeristic; the self as a self which has to work on itself to enrich and explore
itself, in the process dealing with its problems. The self-work ethic, that is to say, treats
work as something to be valued as the means to those ends espoused by expressive or
therapeutic culture. (ibid., 8081)
He proceeds to demonstrate the extent to which the values of the self-work ethics corre-
spond to the values of a new style of managerial approach for which he uses the category of
soft capitalismin which personal involvement, creativity, learning, development, culture,
and knowledge become central attributes that bestow value upon the working subject:
Soft capitalism involves narratives, more specific discourses, and practices to do with en-
hancing commitment and motivation; identifying and unblocking barriersto success;
seeking identity (what it is to become/be a good manager or telephone call center opera-
tive, for example); working as a team or as a company; exercising responsibility or initia-
tive; engaging in work ethics, emotion work; closing the sale; believing in one’s product;
and so on. (ibid.)
In other words, Heelas argues: We are in the land of what can be called the exploratory
mode of soft capitalism. Work, that is to say, is taken to provide the opportunity to ‘work’ on
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oneself; to grow; to learn (‘the learning organization’); to become more effective as a person
(2002, 83).
As a result, it becomes important to re-contextualize the cultural place of the intern within
the contemporary value system as a whole. It is therefore problematic to isolate students and
interns of any current generation from this complex whole and to set them apart as new
carriers of unprecedented or surprising mentalities. Rather, the intern becomes a figure in
which core values of our epoch coalesce, and not simply as a generational or demographic
section of the population, or an economic category. It seems more productive to see the in-
tern as a cultural place where core demands regarding work and their attendant struggles
are expressed. Hansfried Kellner and Frank Heuberger synthesized these demands in their
volume on hidden technocratsin 1994; they show that today work is itself expected to be a
place that takes into account:
the importance of an individual’s quest for an unfoldedpersonality; the justified de-
mands for self-realization, autonomy, and authenticity; the prerogatives of the subjective
life, emotional well-being, and intimacy against the demands of rationalized industry, with
its controlling pressures, coldness, and abstractness; the rights of private over public life;
the individual’s search for meaning in a world that is held to be devoid of meaningful
symbols, plausibility, and credibility; the individual’s need for spontaneity”, immediacy”,
and expression of hedonistic impulses; the importance of creativity and fantasy. (Kellner
and Heuberger 1994, 57)
This broad context of values, ideas, and mentalities characterizing contemporary culture be-
comes an important source for understanding how managerial ideals have become integrat-
ed in a wider cultural process. On the one hand, management discourses have the power to
shape organizational cultures and contexts through their capacity to make promises; on the
other hand, however, management is in turn shaped by societal and cultural expectations
with respect to how work ought to be organized, and how it ought to be approached.
Seen in this cultural-historical light, Generation Y does not think about work in ways that
have not already been prepared in the last three or four decades, both within management
vocabularies and outside them (Rose 1999a; 1999b). The gap between generations begins
to fade when we consider that the cultural apparatus through which the themes of personal
potential, self-expressivism, and self-realization have been perpetuated from the 1960s on-
wards and eventually taken over by managerialism though the 1990s and 2000s (Tipton
1984; Thrift 1997, 2000; Heelas 2002). So what really happened to Erhardt in the cultural
context and pressures of his high-flying internship?
5. The Dangers of the “Positiveand the Cultural Power of Self-Realization
In this section we want to draw attention to the fact that interns (and graduates more general-
ly) face a more ambiguous and complicated set of cultural forces when joining organizations
today. These cultural forces express what Kellner and Heuberger, as well as Heelas and
others, have seized upon: that the self-work ethic and the self-exploratory mode of work and
performativity have become omnipresent in the new economy(Thrift 2000).
Essentially, as shown elsewhere (Costea, Amiridis, and Crump 2012), interns become
part of a cultural nexus in which personal success in work is a function of what we have
termed the principle of potentiality: a representation of the human subject as capable of be-
coming always more than what she or he is. Work has come to be represented as a process
of freeing up, liberating, and mobilizing an individual’s inner qualities, qualities which are
supposed to be always ready to be actualized. The managerial genre of the intern, crystal-
lized in the new forms of recruitment materials and in the overall apparatus of employability,
contains the promise that work is now a new kind of engagement between individuals and
institutions, between private life and public life, between work and non-work, between self-
sacrifice and self-realization. In its forms of address to potential interns, managerial culture
speaks in a sustained register in which work is presented as a program of personal self-
discovery. Perhaps a synthetic illustration of this program could make this clear. In the 2009
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edition of the publication The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers (Birchall 2009, 185), the
corporations in charge of the nuclear industry in the UKa group of six public and private
institutions, including Rolls Royce for example (, 2009)—present their
internship and graduate schemes in the following form: in the middle of a simple black page,
appears a single question: “Who am I?” (At the bottom of the same page, the site nuclear- indicates the answer: “Explore the exceptional.”) This question is the crucial
ingredient of the new kind of invitation and promise regarding work which capable individuals
like Erhardt can only find impossible to resist. Who can object to the idea that work ought to
be the central place where “I” find and express my essential humanity? In such artifacts,
management discourse articulates both the central ideal of life as well as an inalienable right
in contemporary culture: to make one’s self what one wants it to be. Through work any can-
didate can aspire to an always better future, a more fulfilled, self-realized self. It is through
this promise that the imagination of potential candidates like Erhardt is captivated by a con-
ception of work represented as a positive opportunity for self-expression and self-realization
rather than self-renunciation or repression.
This is how the Self(seen in light of Foucault’s, Rose’s, or Heelas’ analyses) becomes
reconceptualized as a source of immanent forces and energies, of potentialities which make
the Selfin itself a store of human resourcefulness (Costea, Crump, and Amiridis 2007). The
relationship between work and self is thus configured and presented as anopportunity: the
self seems to be given the chance to work upon itself in order to release its own inner poten-
tial. The resulting vocabulary, with its now ubiquitous motifs of creativity”,innovation”,
knowledge”,talent”,drive”, and vision”, come to be seen and understood as inner possibil-
ities awaiting their exploration and expression, but also as the basis for a cultural demand
that work is seen to facilitate. All one needs to do is work hard, develop continuously, and
take command of these innate possibilities.
An important historical nuance must be introduced here to explain the power of current
images of potential. The portrayal of potential as innate is a subtle shift from the previous
uses of terms such as actualization or “fulfillment” associated with approaches such as
Human Relations, or the Human Potential Movement in the 1960s. In current management
discourses, the distinctive attribute of the human subject is that potential is predicated upon
an inner plenitude, an abundance of qualities already possessed by the individual. The way
in which management uses this presupposition has a specific weight: by attributing innate
plenitude to each and every individual, managerialism creates a platform from which it issues
the demand that the individual engages with her or his potential, and takes control of its ex-
pression and mobilization. This way of portraying the human subject is different than, for ex-
ample, Mayo’s understanding which revolved throughout his work around the dangers of an
inner subjectivity which he saw as irrational, emotionally unstable, and a threat to the moral
order of work and the organization (O’Connor 1999, 225). Moreover, what he called the
“mental hinterland” of the workers (ibid.) posed the further danger of spilling over into the
social fabric of organized life, and lead to a collectivity contaminated by maladjustment.
Against this psychological danger, the role of management was seen by Mayo in therapeutic
terms, acting in the name of enlightened reason to tease out, through the counselling inter-
view”, and control the dark side of the psyche.
The Human Potential Movement manifest in Erhard Seminar Trainings (EST, widespread
in the US from the 1960s to the 1980s, and now converted into life coaching), or
D’Aubigny’s Exegesis system (in the UK in the 1970s) similarly conceived of the interiority of
the human subject as a source of fears and problems, anxieties and traumatic content, which
had to be forcefully, violently at times, evicted in order to make room for a rebirth, for a met-
amorphosis into a new self.” “Your lives don’t work, assholes. Otherwise you wouldn’t be
here” was the irrefutable introductory statement of EST seminars (according to Tipton 1984,
177). The dynamic of the Human Potential Movement revolved around an emptying of the
subject rather than a positing of its inner qualities and potential as source of personal value.
However, as Rose has shown, when analyzed in light of Maslow’s, Rogers,’ Frankl’s, or
Fromm’s contributions, followed by Argyris, Vroom, or Herzberg, we can establish a substan-
Bogdan Costea, Peter Watt, and Kostas Amiridis
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tive affinity between them and the managerial discourses of the intern today (Rose 1999b,
110). A clear and direct connection can be found in Maslow:
Now let me try to present briefly and at first dogmatically the essence of this newly devel-
oping conception of the psychiatrically healthy man. First of all and most important of all
is the strong belief that man has an essential nature of his own, [...] that he has needs,
capacities and tendencies [...] some of which are characteristic of the whole human spe-
cies, cutting across all cultural lines and some of which are unique to the individual. The-
se needs are on their face good or neutral rather than evil. Second, there is involved the
conception that full healthy and normal and desirable development consists in actualizing
this nature, in fulfilling these potentialities, [...] growing from within rather than being
shaped from without. Third, it is now seen clearly that psychopathology in general results
from the denial or the frustration or the twisting of man’s essential nature. By this concep-
tion what is good? Anything that conduces to this desirable development in the direction
of actualization of the inner nature of man. [...] What is psychotherapy, or for that matter
any therapy of any kind? Any means of any kind that helps to restore the person to the
path of self-actualization and of development along the lines that his inner nature dic-
tates. (Maslow 1954, 340341)
Whilst Maslow’s conception has been at the center of academic interpretations of work moti-
vation, in terms of its practical deployment in managerial practices, its evolution has been
more or less evident over the decades. In the case of current invocations of inner potential in
the operation of recruitment and selection of interns and graduates, as well as the com-
mandment to actualize this potential, the Maslowian heritage is perhaps more discernible
than ever. An important aspect of this conception is the assumption of the moral good of
self-actualization and the way in which managerialism seeks to position itself as opening up
a path for it.
The essential aspect, which must be highlighted here is that the invocations of potentiality
and plenitude function on the fundamental basis that any discussion of the inherent limits of
the human subject of work is silenced. The motif of unlimited plenitude revolves around the
logic of this silencing, namely as an active denial of human limits. The incessant drive for
more performativity, more innovation, more profitability, is the engine of a cultural process
underpinned by the denial of human limits.
6. Concluding Remarks
Is it possible to answer the question regarding Moritz Erhardt’s tragic death as an intern in a
high-powered organization: was it an industrial accident, a mere coincidence of terrible mis-
fortunes related to health and work cultures? Of course, it was all of these. Our argument,
however, is that there are also other aspects which make Erhardt’s story worth reflecting
upon and worth bringing into the light of wider tendencies in contemporary management cul-
We have tried to explore one of these tendencies: the gradual growth of a culture of work
focused intensely and unremittingly on the self, a culture which becomes obligatory from the
very early stage of careers, so much so that internships themselves become a kind of testing
ground for the mettle of individuals. In this sense, the original question, what killed Moritz
Erhardt?, becomes more complex and complicated. It seems that Erhardt, and so many oth-
ers like him, are part of a complex process in which management discourses have appropri-
ated the complex imperative of self-realization. This theme becomes a way of projecting work
as an opportunity for the self to express itself. And this imperative is dangerous because it
cannot simply be dismissed as a managerial invention.” Erhardt legitimately wanted to find
what he himself was made of.” “Who am I?is a question that functions with such intensity
because it is our question, one which presses in on each of us with a legitimacy rooted
deeper than its recent uses by management. In fact, management becomes able to insert its
own demands in the current cultures of work precisely because it seizes upon legitimate as-
pirations that come from the interiority of the contemporary self.
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When the self is permanently at stake, self-expression becomes a defining mode of en-
gaging both with the interior and the exterior of consciousness, it becomes a process of al-
most extreme attempts to give a physical performance of the self’s interiority, both publicly
and privately. This is what seems to undergird the ritual of the “magic roundabout” of sleep-
less working. Erhardt seems to have been caught right in the middle of contemporary culture:
more precisely, in its performative middle, in that place of the contemporary condition where
the binding crux of culture seems to have found its most powerful source. That is, Erhardt
was caught at that juncture where the selfmanifests its dominion as the overall form which
demands to be incessantly performed by each and every individual. The selfis that cultural
form generating the exhortation characterizing nowadays every social and cultural domain:
that any concrete individual must express his or her exceptional”,unique” “potentialities and
The idea that the “I” has to find itself in a search for inexhaustible potentiality and unique-
ness changes the terms of the promises made in various social contracts. The work contract
becomes perhaps the most important place where a new horizon of promises can take shape
in such a way that the result can be the extreme form of engagement to which Erhardt fell
victim. Potential, self-expression, performance, self-realizationthese are, in our argument,
the dangerous cultural forces underpinning what has become a quasi-dogma of contempo-
rary culture: positivity.” And this doctrine seems to feed and sustain managerial culture in a
dangerously robust manner.
The case of Moritz Erhardt also presents the opportunity to open up avenues for compara-
tive research and interpretation regarding its specific cultural context and its nature. In this
paper, we have not treated it in comparative terms, but it is important to note that it is an
event which occurred in the context of an American institution located in the powerful work
culture of the City of London financial sector. In other words, this has to be treated as an in-
stance of specific Anglo-American work cultures. In what way does it compare with the cul-
tures of other regions of the world, with other sectors of activity? How these cultural themes
are distributed and diffused in various parts of the world would require a systematic compara-
tive analysis that is beyond the economy of this article, but is the next logical step in a future
research agenda.
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About the Authors
Bogdan Costea
Bogdan Costea is a Reader in the Department of Organisation, Work, and Technology at Lancaster
University’s Management School. He pursues three main lines of investigation: subjectivity, work, and
managerialism in the context of modernity. They are connected by a common thread linking the
growth of Human Resources Management during the past three decades with wider developments in
the social sciences and the humanities.
Peter Watt
Peter Watt is a Lecturer in Business Management at York St. John University. His current research
draws on contemporary literary fiction to explore the way in which the figure of “the graduate” has be-
come an exemplary theme in which managerial tropes and popular understandings of value come
together and intersect.
Kostas Amiridis
Kostas Amiridis is a Lecturer in the Department of Organisation, Work, and Technology at Lancaster
University’s Management School. His research focuses on the evolution and limits of business ethics,
human resource management, and the history of management thought.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
What constitutes graduate employability is discursively framed. In this paper we argue that whilst universities in the UK have long had an involvement in producing useful and productive citizens, the ongoing neoliberalisation of higher education has engendered a discursive shift in definitions of employability. Traditionally, universities regarded graduate employment as an aspect of institutions' relationship with the labour market, and one where they enjoyed a significant degree of discretion. Now, employability is a performative function of universities, shaped and directed by the state, which is seeking to supplant labour markets. We argue that this has three profound implications. First, state intervention in labour markets adjusts power balances in favour of employers. Second, contrary to the legitimising rationale of enhancing social justice, pursuit of employability agendas may well be creating two tiers of universities - those that produce docile employees and those that produce employers/leaders. And third, employability discourses may be adversely affecting pedagogies and curricula, to the disbenefit of students, institutions, employers, social justice and civil society.
The original essays collected here under the general title of The Knowledge Society were first commissioned for a conference held in the late fall of 1984 at the Technische Hochschule Darmstadt, West Germany. The conference in Darmstadt saw a larger number of contribu­ tions presented than could be accommodated in this edition of the Sociol­ ogy of the Sciences Yearbook. However, all contributions were important and affected those published in this collection. We are therefore grateful to all participants of the Darmstadt conference for their presentations and for their intense, useful as well as thoughtful discussion of all papers. Those chosen for publication in the Yearbook and those undoubtedly to be published elsewhere have all benefitted considerably from our discussions in Darmstadt which also included a number of the members of the edito­ rial board of the Yearbook. In addition, we are pleased that the authors were able to read and comment further on each other's papers prior to publication. As is the case in every endeavor of this kind, we have incurred many debts and are only able to acknowledge these at this point publicly while expressing our sincere thanks and appreciation for all the intellectual sup­ port and the considerable labor invested by a number of persons in the realization of the collection.
Despite many insightful, sophisticated and engaged inquiries into the interrelation of science and society, particularly in the 1920s and early 1930s and again in the 1960s and early 1970s, the void of a theory of society which captures the dynamics of science, technology and society remains to a significant extent. The fundamental issues of “the modes of interplay between society, culture and science are with us still” (1). Of course, we cannot hope to significantly reduce the need for such a theory here; however, we are convinced that a new approach is required. Our effort can only be seen as preliminary rather than exhaustive. Like some previous approaches, it too is based on the assumption that social change in industrial society and therefore the makeup of its social relations are increasingly tied to “advances” in scientific knowledge.