The Fourth Industrial Revolution may offer a way back for men who are no longer rooted to a job, religion or partner and, in attempting to give-back to the community, sometimes find themselves spiralling into counter-productive tendencies, which American scientists have termed the ‘Haphazard Self’.

Many of the motivations and thought processes identified in America were also present during the Platform-7 Art Interventions over the last decade.

In line with these observations, part of the Innovation Hub remit will be to demonstrate how art and creative practices can assist men (and women) seeking to move beyond the rigid behavioural norms and strictures that the legacy of an outmoded industrial economy still imposes. By creating a Hub where people are able to express themselves freely will provide the right ambience to explore alternative models of self-reliance and lead to new businesses being created and individuals’ pursuing new career opportunities.

A short summary of the research The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men (Edin, et al 2019) can be found below, plus excerpt from a New York Times article discussing the research, where referenced.

The Haphazard Self

[The Haphazard Self refers to] men whose vocational aspirations usually remain nebulous and tentative, rarely taking the form of an explicit strategy. In the meantime, career trajectories are often replaced by a string of random jobs. […]

These men’s desire for autonomy in jobs seems rooted in their rejection of the monotony and limited autonomy that their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the workplace. […]

Comparing Standards Of Living

The researchers conducted 107 in-depth interviews with working-class men. Many told them that the economy doesn’t allow them to provide the same standard of living that their fathers could provide. (NYT, 2019)

Fathers and grandfathers of today’s young working-class men provided a standard of living that many of their adult sons cannot match today. This is particularly true for the whites, who when they look back can remember fathers and grandfathers who were sustained by the booming industrial economy of post- World War II America. African-Americans, however, did not get a fair share of the blue-collar prosperity of the post-World War II period. As a result, they may look back to a time when discrimination deprived their parents of such opportunities. Many Hispanics may look back to the lower standard of living their parents experienced in their countries of origin. Thus, whites are more likely to compare themselves to a reference group that makes them feel worse off, while blacks and Hispanics compare themselves to reference groups that may make them feel better off. […]

Need For Creativity And Self Expression

Most of the interviewees spoke of a need for ‘creativity and self-expression’ and pivoting this to create a business.

This is reflected in the entrepreneurial nature of many of the side bets, [or side jobs] ranging from petty drug dealing to cash-in-hand plumbing, and the emphasis on the creative and performing arts. […]

Generative Selves: Give Back

As the stories illustrate, a desire for generative work—jobs that allow men to “give back” to their communities—is most often voiced when they are asked about the jobs to which they aspire. […]

Rather, they are attempting to renegotiate their relationships to these institutions [partner/wife, job/career, religion/church] by attempting to construct autonomous, generative selves. For example, these men’s desire for autonomy in jobs seems rooted in their rejection of the monotony and limited autonomy that their fathers and grandfathers experienced in the workplace, along with a new ethos of self-expression (Cherlin 2014). […]

Our interviews strongly suggest that the autonomous, generative self that many men described is also a haphazard self. […]

Yet our analysis of men’s life narratives suggests that many are also focused on rescuing themselves or those they see as younger versions of themselves. […]

Cultural Forces

Cultural forces have also played a role, namely the emphasis on autonomy — being your own person, focusing on your own personal growth, shucking off any constraints. This ethos, at least in the cities where the interviews happened, has replaced the older working-class ethos, based on self-discipline, the dignity of manual labor and being a good provider, they conclude. […]

In short, at the very moment information-age capitalism detaches many working-class men from stable careers, the autonomy ethos teaches that it’s right to be semidetached, that the best life is one lived in perpetual flux, with your options perpetually open. (NYT, 2019)

Changing Father Relationship

One might question whether the emphasis on nurture and warmth has supplanted men’s sense of duty to provide financially. […] Though men did not explicitly say so, the fact that they placed more emphasis on their emotional than their financial role may have weakened their motivation to work. […]

The form of fatherhood these men wish to enact is not modelled on what they observed among their own fathers and grandfathers, who—in their view—were inadequate. Rather, this generation places strong emphasis on nurture and warmth (see also Edin and Nelson 2013). Many derided their own fathers if they “merely” provided financially for the family but didn’t provide emotional support. […]

For their fathers and grandfathers, work, family, and religion created the attachments, investments, involvements, and beliefs (Hirschi 1969) that guided and gave meaning to human activity in specific social domains. In addition, this pattern was broadly shared within the community and successfully reproduced over time (Friedland and Alford 1991). These institutions not only organized social activity into common patterns of behaviour, but supplied norms, beliefs, and rituals that legitimated such patterns. If traditional social roles in these domains are now only tenuously embraced, a few may craft lives that are more rewarding than those of prior generations, but the majority will struggle. […]

Yet through their attempts to renegotiate work, family, and religious roles, working-class men, whose fathers’ and grandfathers’ lives were often marked by limited autonomy in the workplace, gender-segregated roles within their family, and religious structures that dictated a set of rigid behavioural norms—these men are showing signs of moving beyond such strictures. Many will likely falter. Yet they are laying claim to a measure of autonomy and generativity in these spheres that were less often available in prior generations. […]


This brings us back to the question of why labour force detachment is becoming more common among men with a high school diploma but no four-year college degree, especially when the official unemployment rate is so low. It is tempting to look for a single explanation for this increase. Although only a starting point, our findings suggest that these changes may be driven by the fact that the workplace, the family, and religion have all been transformed, along with men’s sense of what constitutes fulfilment in all these domains. In addition, the salience of manual labour in identity formation seems to have weakened, compared to prior generations. If significant changes in any one of those arenas can be life-altering, the combined effect of all these changes will be quite unpredictable and will vary with the temperamental differences of the men who confront them. […]

Though our analysis should sound an alarm for the near term, we believe it is too soon to predict how these changes will play out over time as society adjusts to them.

Image: Damon Winter | The New York Times (13 May 2019)

Linked Posts: Innovation Hub, Standardising Life, Art Interventions and Abundant Choice

Edin, Kathryn, Timothy Nelson, Andrew Cherlin, and Robert Francis. 2019. “The Tenuous Attachments of Working-Class Men.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33 (2): 211-28. Online 19 April 2019 {https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.33.2.211}

Brook, David. 13 May 2019, “The Rise of the Haphazard Self: How working-class men detach from work, family and church”, New York Times, Opinion. Online 29 May 2019 {https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/13/opinion/working-class-men.html?em_pos=small&ref=headline&nl_art=2&te=1&nl=opinion-today&emc=edit_ty_2019051}

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