Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
In this article, I examine self-employment, or nonemployer businesses, in the United States, in an attempt to understand the subjective experience of a way of working that operates both within and outside of typical neoliberal labor force norms. In doing so, I engage with Ilana Gershon’s discussions (2011, 2016) of the way neoliberal political economy has impinged on capitalist personhood to examine the degree to which nonemployer business operation has or has not become a productive iteration of the neoliberal self. To explore this question, I conducted extensive interviews with 10 self-employed white-collar service providers in the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area of North Carolina. My ethnographic data shows that these self-employed interlocutors are not typical of Gershon’s neoliberal selves. They expressed their investment in such values as control, autonomy, empowerment, relational obligations and other non-market rationalities rather than in such neoliberal values as flexibility, continual transformativity, entrepreneurialism, and market rationality.