Challenges to Cultural Worker Subjectivity

What does it mean to produce worker subjectivity in the knowledge economy? Amy Tyson’s discussion of the “cult of authenticity” (122) at Fort Snelling provides a compelling example of how workplace culture can stymie solidarity. At Fort Snelling, authenticity is construed as a one-to-one relationship with the past. As Tyson notes, this literalized notion of authenticity produces an array of ill effects, including management’s emphasis on testing and rote memorization, discriminatory hiring practices, and performances of toxic masculinity. Equally troubling is the way in which the Fort’s definition of authenticity divides workers. For example, Tyson describes how the imperative to produce authentic historical performances facilitates practices of surveillance and policing among coworkers, particularly between “lead guides” and rank-and-file interpreters. This disciplinary culture also has troubling consequences when paired with the realities of emotional labor. As workers merge their personal and professional identities (a hallmark of this kind of work), a literalized notion of authenticity serves to differentiate employees who are technically of the same rank. (Witness the cornbread incident, in which an interpreter playing Mrs. Snelling uses her “rank” to chastise another interpreter playing a cook for the seemingly innocuous act of giving away leftover food.) Tyson also describes the use of testing to sort employees: “Interpreters who didn’t take the additional tests were technically only supposed to portray the roles of working-class men and women…” (123) Along with the demands of emotional labor, these hyper-literal interpretations of historical authenticity inscribe the interpretive workforce with troubling hierarchies, exacerbating the discursive and material challenges that these culture workers face in identifying as workers – a necessary precursor to resisting exploitation.

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