Christine Coupland Discusses Embodied Careers

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING][What are embodied careers?How would you define it for anyone who has not encounteredit before?]Embodied careers can be thought about in two very distinctways.

    • 00:21

      Most obviously, it's those whose body's crafted for work.So immediately you can think of dancers, professional sportspeople, some theater work.It's obvious that their role in life is to perform physically.So that's an embodied career-- the very public.Public performance, publicly assessed, and publicly finished

    • 00:46

      version.And I started to think about this concept.I thought, well actually, we all have embodied careers.We maybe don't notice it in our everyday world,but I say that the body I carry into work with me every morning sayssomething about how appropriate itis for my performance-- for my job.

    • 01:06

      The older I get, the more obvious that seems to be.People are using how you look as a proxy for ability.Not just as you're getting older,but also if you're quite young, that'salso taken as a proxy for ability.And the question is asked in someone's head,is this person old enough for this job.Is this person young enough for this job.

    • 01:26

      But more than that, there is a big trend--certainly in some Scandinavian countries--about how fit you are.So is this person fit enough looking for this role?Elements like that are entering our world and decisionsare made about our ability based on how we look.[How did you personally become interested in embodied careers?

    • 01:48

      What first inspired you to start research in this field?]What started my interest was I attendeda lot of high level international rugby games.Not always out of my own choosing, but I was there.And I thought, if you take the notion that professional sportis work-- which the argument can easily be made

    • 02:11

      because you get paid to do it.You have an appraisal every week on the pitch,if not more regularly than that.And if you don't do well, you won't get to play.Promotion depends on doing well.So I started to see the rugby game-- professional rugby gameas work.And as someone who tries to avoid painin the course of my work, I really

    • 02:33

      couldn't understand why they did it.It's so obvious there's a great deal of battering goingon in the course of their work.And I couldn't really understand it.And it intrigued me.So I then was fortunate enough to beable to carry out an ethnography in a professional rugby club.And I started to study the way that the raw material,the body, was crafted for organizational purpose.

    • 02:57

      And it's not for them arguing the rugby players didn'twant to do this.They were very willing.They became, by joining this particular club, local heroes.But the organizational effort thatwent into making this raw material into somethingthat performed more appropriately every weekwas fascinating.The control was emotional.It was total.

    • 03:20

      And I thought well, if these people workedfor a mining industry-- a steel works-- and they were toldthere's a better than even chance they're going to breaka limb by the end of the year, we'dbe doing something about that.And I wondered why no one was questioning it.So being a work career scholar, I brought different perspectiveinto the sports field.

    • 03:43

      So having though about that, then I thought,well, really, these elite professional careersreplicate our own careers, which seem less embodied.But it's just that they're more intense.They are shorter careers.They are more physically damaging,with long term effects for the rest of their lives,even beyond playing.

    • 04:04

      If no one's paying any attention to the damage that's done,then maybe it's time that someone did.When I started this research intothis professional rugby club, I was looking at how it worked.I went in to better understand howit operated as a small company.I knew that it wasn't financed in the same wasas other companies, and did that have an impact

    • 04:25

      on the way it was run?I knew there was a very fierce, loyal fanbasearound the organization.How did that impact on the organization?And I was also interested in the individualsthat are making up this particular club, whateverjob they were doing.And that's why I went in.I was intrigued to see how it worked as a small company.

    • 04:46

      [Which key thinkers in this field have inspired you,and who continues to influence you?]The key thinkers in this field-- it's quite a diverse field,so it will have to be my own special favorites,rather than the ones who are expert.And the one person whose work I read and thought wow,is a chap called Loic Wacquant.

    • 05:07

      He's French-Canadian.He decided to do an ethnography in Chicago,in the poor side of Chicago.And he was working in the School of Sociology at the time.And he decided the best way to dothat, living on the edge of this poor part of the city,was to join the local boxing gym.

    • 05:28

      So he joined the local boxing gym.He was white, very small frame, spoke French.And adapted to the world of boxing.His book's called Body and Soul.No books on boxing.And he so immersed himself that he took part in the Golden

    • 05:52

      Gloves award in Chicago-- [INAUDIBLE] Ph.D. --as the highest level that you can play as an amateur.So he totally immersed himself in his study.But the way he writes, he describes this world.He describes boxing as from an outside perspective,a world of violence and damage.

    • 06:12

      From the inside perspective, it was disciplined.It was off the street.It was belonging to a brotherhood.It was learning to control your body.And it was a removal from the world in which typicallythe people lived.The way he describes things in that book was-- Iwish I could write like Loic Wacquant.

    • 06:34

      So he's my first one.The second one was his Ph.D. supervisor, Pierre Bourdieu.His notion of habitus capital and fieldhelps to explain why from the outside thingslook a terrible thing to do-- a bad job, thing

    • 06:54

      that would be damaging.You wouldn't go near it.From the inside, it has a logic of its own.So Pierre Bourdieu for me offers an explanation whywe enter these damaging roles.And there are lots of other examples of that.And why it makes sense at the time.And how you can get so immersed in it you can't question it.

    • 07:15

      And I think that explains rugby players doing what they do,and lots of other occupations doing what they do.A third one is a feminist scholarcalled Angela Trethewey.And she started writing way back in the late 1990s.And she talked about women's bodiesbeing organized for production.

    • 07:38

      She studied lots of areas, but the most significant one for mewas the airline industry, where people had to be weighed,or told they were eating inappropriate levels of food.And they had to be groomed.And they had to be seen to be the right shapeand size for the job.And [INAUDIBLE] been drawn on a lot since then.

    • 07:59

      There are lots of other examples of the appropriate bodyshape, that tended to be about women adjusting to a male gaze,if you wish.I used it in my paper, which was then published by organizationthis year, to talk about a male on male gaze.But it isn't just women in a male-dominated environment

    • 08:20

      who are subject to this patriarchy--this appropriate way to look.But men are, too.I use the rugby players as a very obvious example.That when the body arrives to the rugby club as a new person,it's then crafted to be more appropriate.And I find that the language of the coacheswas about it's not strong enough.

    • 08:42

      We must make the body so it lasts longer.They start to see it as an object to be managed.So they're my three key thinkers.And they're from quite diverse areas.But they're the ones that resonate with me still.[What are the key debates or research questions in the fieldof embodied careers?]

    • 09:03

      Key debates in the field.I think one of the key debates, what I'm challenging most,is a disciplinary focus.So all the people who have a vested interestin professional sportspeople tendto be more concerned with how to enhance that performance.They're rather less concerned with understanding

    • 09:24

      why they committed themselves to such body-damaging stuffwithout thinking about what happens next.So that disciplinary focus, although therehave been sometimes when people are sendingme to prepare for transition, not too much effortgoes into that.But you can imagine all the mediacompanies who are involved in sportare not really interested in that.

    • 09:47

      Sports departments in universitiesare really much moire interested in enhancing performanceand getting people to perform better and for longer.And even the club themselves, thereare tales from the field of the clubsthemselves maybe not really beingtoo interested in preparing their athletes for a lifebeyond performing.So it's not so much a debate I've entered,

    • 10:10

      it's more like another disciplinary focus.That's the first thing.A second really important element to this,though, is some research that looks at the body seesa mind-body split.That the body is this docile thingthat we carry around that behaves according to the waythe mind decides.And it's subordinate to the mind.

    • 10:32

      I deliberately use the term Embodied Careerbecause I think we're more than that.So there may be times when you thinkI've got to get out of here quick, and, of course,the body follows.But prior to that there is an emotional response to somethingthat says I've got to get out of here quick,and that's an embodied response, in my opinion.Ann Cunliffe and I wrote a paper for human relations,

    • 10:54

      and it was based on the footage of the Lions repertoire, 2001.It was a lot of trouble because Matt Dawsonwrote a diary that really didn't make managerslook like they were doing their job very well, basically.And we said in there that it was very obvious from the footage

    • 11:17

      that what these players were doingwas responding in an embodied wayto the behaviors on the pitch.And there was no cognitive appraisal going on.There wasn't time.So, when we entered up the argument with this paper,we said a lot of Cartwright's wonderful workabout sense-making presumed cognitive appraisalof the field.

    • 11:37

      We say the cognitive appraisal comes in whenwe notice something's wrong.And we think, prior to that, we respond in an embodied waybefore the cognitive appraisal.And that's the fight or flight thing.That's the I don't like it here and I don't really know why.It also explains why, in some [INAUDIBLE] environments,some people don't like to sit with their butt

    • 11:58

      to the corridor.We have an embodied response to our world,and I think the mind-body split does it a disservice.It suggests the body is just a dupe, if you like.[Can you describe a case study from your research thatillustrates the importance or relevance of embodied careers?]So what one story or one account I

    • 12:19

      can give of why we should be interested in Embodied Careers.Why it matters.Why it should be brought to the attention of academics.In my ethnography I interviewed lots of peoplein a particular club.It was a rugby league club performing at an elite level.I didn't just interview the players.I also interviewed the kit man.

    • 12:41

      Everyone, really-- the people in the shop,marketing people, everyone.And this person, we'll call him John, who worked there,not as a player.He was 52 at the time of his story.When he was 12 he was really good at sport.He was picked by this particular elite rugby club

    • 13:02

      to join their academy.Back in the day it was called the Colts, the youth team.And he played really well.Up to the age of 16 he played for the England Rugby Leagueteam.He was very good.He was very fast.And he remembers being taken into the coach's office oneday, and being told, John, you haven't grown enough.

    • 13:25

      You're too small.You've got to go.He was devastated.His world had come to an end, using his words.His opportunity to make everyone proud of him had gone.He was completely shattered.It wasn't expected at all because he knew he was fast.He knew he was good.He worked hard.He had talents.And he says he pleaded with them to keep him on

    • 13:47

      and they said no.But it didn't end there because he would thengo and play for anyone who would let him play.And in the course of one year, he dislocated his shoulderand broke his arm three times.And every time he'd say, I'm fine,and get back out in the field.And he really shouldn't have donebecause he's done quite irreparable damage to his body.

    • 14:09

      He said he just couldn't let it go.He could not leave it.So what's the problem?The labor market's picked off at a very young age.The schools are trolled for the right-shaped body,for the right attitude.And these young people are then asked to join academies

    • 14:32

      where they are educated, but, in [INAUDIBLE] terms,the desire to learn about literacy has disappeared.What they're interested in is attaining physical literacyto enter this elite world.So that's an issue, and that's a problem.Another problem with this case is

    • 14:53

      John was asked to leave with no support whatsoever.No preparation for a future life.No help to psychologically disengage and reengage.It's slightly better now.So John's 52 and he's now a support member of staffat this rugby club.He still hasn't left.So the issue wasn't ever resolved, was it?

    • 15:15

      And it's not much different now because thereare some very public stories about relationship breakups,gambling problems, drinking problems, and ultimatelysuicide attempts by these elite rugby players whoknow no other world.[What do you see as the big embodied careers storiesof 2014?]

    • 15:36

      In sports, specifically, the USA footballissue around concussion that's hit headlines fairly recently.The NFL have been sued successfullyfor punch-drunk syndrome that hasbeen caused by repeated concussionof their elite players.And I think is quite unique because they have a governing

    • 15:59

      body being held accountable rather than individualsbeing blamed that they did it because they wanted to.I think that's going to have huge repercussionsfor other physically embodied sports.In the UK-- and in Ireland, particularly-- therewas a an ex-rugby league player who died at a quite young age

    • 16:21

      and only on autopsy did they discover that, in his brain,he had punch-drunk syndrome int he early stages.And I think this is going to make a massive differenceto how the clubs themselves are going to be held responsible.The government bodies are going to held more responsible.And that's going to make the game safer,I would like to think.That's the big story in sport.

    • 16:43

      Outside the sport world, in a coupleof Scandinavian companies-- I won't name them,but-- the elite managers have this attentionto their leisure world, which is being brought into work.So they, around the water cooler or the coffee machine,are stories of how far did you run this weekend?

    • 17:06

      How long did you spend at the gym?Are you coming to the gym straight from work?It has become an environment in which having a fit bodyis seen as a route to promotion because, if you thinkof the opposite of that, not having a fit body,not being able to talk about going to the gym,has material consequences for who you can talk to at work.

    • 17:26

      It's almost like you've become excluded because you aren'tjoining in this game, as it is.And I think that's quite an interesting maneuver,if you like.So, back in the day, we used to always thinkthat organizations would increasetheir profit by being lean, fit, flexible, and autonomous.I think we're entering a world where the individual's

    • 17:47

      body need to be lean, fit, flexible,and autonomous to profit from the career paththat they've chosen.So I think there are two quite important things.Of course, the aging working populationis something everybody's starting to deal with.I've got an interesting thought about that.I think, because we now have legislation about age--so if I was interviewing I would say,

    • 18:10

      I can't ask this person how old they are.So I'm going to make a judgement on do they lookthe right age for this job?More judgment is being made of howyou look because we can't ask the question when we used to.And, of course, the gendered embodied careernotion that has a long history, that is still ongoing.

    • 18:33

      So I think there are going to be big stories in allof those fields.This year.[How is the field of embodied careers changing,and what developments do you consider most significant?]Like all social fields it's constantly changing.I think change is constant.If it stood still we'd be quite shocked, I think.I think whenever there are vested interests

    • 18:53

      in elite sports and enhanced performance,longevity of careers, being able to increase performance,then there will be a rigidity around changingthis in any way.I think the bit that's changing is maybe

    • 19:14

      critical academic attention to, is this necessarily agood thing?Is there an appropriate level of care taken here?I think that's quite new.Very few people are talking about this.A few years ago the only interventionsthat there were were usually at a crisis point.So when an Olympic athlete finished their career

    • 19:36

      and didn't cope very well with moving into another life,then psychologists would be brought on boardto try and make a happier transition.More recently I was starting to put transitional interventions,if you like, earlier on.But they're few and far between.Athletes will rarely admit to there

    • 19:57

      being a crisis on the horizon.It's only when the crisis actually occursthat people can notice it.I'm starting to put a bid togetherfor some funding from the ESRC with some colleaguesfrom Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University.We have an interdisciplinary set of foci there which, I think,

    • 20:18

      is what it needs to be able to challenge and yet producean intervention that may even be introduced at the academylevel.So when these young boys are told,you may be an elite performer of this sport at some point,but you will definitely have a life beyond,and we need to make sure you're ready for it.And that's the kind of interventionwe're looking to try and put some research together

    • 20:40

      to create a good one.[What new research directions do you find most exciting,and where would you like to take your own research?]I'm particularly interested in an intersection.So we aren't just an embodied performanceat work, or anywhere, really.We also have with us-- judgments are

    • 21:00

      being made about our gender, our race, our class, how we speak.And there's an interaction, in fact, between all of those,and I'm interested in looking at that.So if we have a number of things going,let's say, against using a particular work context,

    • 21:22

      is there a way that we can overcome that?If we educate our managers to be on the lookout for that kindof stereotypical judgement.So that's what I'm interested in next.So that's gender, age, race, class, physical shape,physical ability.

    • 21:43

      I'd like to be able to talk to managersand educate managers that what you're looking foris someone who is able to do the job.[How do you approach the topic of embodied careersas a teacher?]It's not a specific part of a new module,although that could be quite an interesting oneto teach HR students.

    • 22:06

      But I teach a module called analysing careers where I getto go out and do some research by interviewing anyone who hashad a career for a number of years.And get them to challenge theory with the actual experiencesof the person they've interviewed.It could be their granny.It could be anyone.But before I get them to do that,I get them to look at one another dispassionately

    • 22:26

      and make a judgement about their ability on how they look.And the students are great for picking the guy whohasn't washed his t-shirt for a number of daysand saying, well, he's obviously sloppyand not going to be very good at what he does.And girls who turn up in makeup at 9:00 on Monday morning,they're very fastidious.So they're going to be really good at their job.And then we unpick those stereotypes.

    • 22:50

      And I give them some stuff around cultural valuesand how to work out why you've got stereotypes.Why we operate with them.That they're shortcuts.They keep us out of danger very often.But, very often, they're inaccurate whenwe're looking at giving someone a promotion at work.And that's how I incorporate it.I get them to think about careers as a real thing, not

    • 23:12

      set-and-dry theories.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Christine Coupland Discusses Embodied Careers

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Professor Christine Coupland discusses the issues around embodied careers. She describes great thinkers in the field, case studies, and the future of research in embodied careers.

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Christine Coupland Discusses Embodied Careers

Professor Christine Coupland discusses the issues around embodied careers. She describes great thinkers in the field, case studies, and the future of research in embodied careers.

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