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Orrange___The_Mutable_Self - The Emerging Mutable Self 1...

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The Emerging Mutable Self / 1 © The University of North Carolina Press Social Forces , September 2003, 82(1):1-34 The Emerging Mutable Self: Gender Dynamics and Creative Adaptations in Defining Work, Family, and the Future* R OBERT M. O RRANGE , Eastern Michigan University Abstract This analytical article develops a framework to examine how contemporary young adults approach work, family, and their own personal futures, by building upon a program of research involving in-depth interviews with advanced law and MBA students. I argue that the sociology of work and family could be greatly enhanced by taking account of the shifting nature of the self in light of transformations over recent decades associated with the new individualism, changes in gender roles and family life, and the demise of stable career trajectories for professionals and managers. An elaborated version of Zurcher’s thesis about the mutable self is presented as a means for understanding how young adults in succeeding generations will go about defining institutional commitments across the life course. As we enter the twenty-first century, if sociologists and social psychologists are to understand how young adults think about commitments and make plans for their futures, particularly in the areas of work and family life, they will need to grapple with the changing nature of the self in a highly complex world. One such effort is embodied in Zurcher’s (1977) thesis about the “mutable self,” which he formulated in the early 1970s upon noting a shift in college students’ self-definitions from orientations toward stability (self as object) to orientations toward change (self as process). Today, individuals project plans for the future * Earlier drafts of this article were presented at the Southwestern Social Science Association Annual Meeting, San Antonio, March 1999, and as part of the Bronfenbrenner Life Course Center’s Spring 1999 Colloquia Series, Cornell University. Research was funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (Sloan FDN# 96-6-9), Phyllis Moen, principal investigator. I wish to thank Leonard Cain for editorial comments and helpful suggestions made on an earlier draft of this article. Direct correspondence to Robert M. Orrange, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, 712 Pray-Harrold, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197. E-mail: [email protected]
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2 / Social Forces 82:1, September 2003 amid a great deal of complexity, ongoing change, and uncertainty about the realms of work and family life. In fact, rigid or narrow definitions of self in prospective work and family roles could prove problematic for them, given the uncertainties surrounding these core institutions over the life course. In the realm of work, individuals are expected to be highly flexible and adaptable to aid businesses in coping with rapidly changing and highly competitive economic environments. Since the waves of downsizing and restructuring that began to impact the middle class during the 1980s, professionals have been encouraged to
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