Skills and Selves in the New Workplace

Urciuoli, Bonnie
American Ethnologist

In the neoliberal imaginary of contemporary capitalism, workers' employment value depends on their skills. Skills terms, especially communication, team, and leadership, formulate aspects of personhood and modes of sociality as productive labor. The key semiotic properties of skills terms are strategic indexicality (expressing alignment with corporate values) and denotational indeterminacy (knowledge and practices referred to as skills are quite disparate). Yet all skills are assumed to be commensurable and readily available for inculcation into workers. Drawing from Internet sites marketing skills-related services, I explore the semiotic properties of discourses that facilitate skills' commensurability and commodification.