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Love twilight, the vampire diaries and such? How about a vampiric lens on ageing?

by on March 7, 2014

From time to time we aim to highlight recent research about age at work that challenges current thinking.  One such recent paper is:

Riach, K., & Kelly, S. (2013). The need for fresh blood: understanding organizational age inequality through a vampiric lens. Organization. doi:10.1177/1350508413508999

ABSTRACT: This article argues that older age inequality within and across working life is the result of vampiric forms and structures  constitutive of contemporary organizing. Rather than assuming ageism occurs against a backdrop of neutral organizational processes and practices, the article denaturalizes (and in the process super-naturalizes) organizational orientations of ageing through three vampiric aspects: (un)dying, regeneration and neophilia. These dimensions are used to illustrate how workplace narratives and logics normalize and perpetuate the systematic denigration of the ageing organizational subject. Through our analysis it is argued that older workers are positioned as inevitable ‘sacrificial objects’ of the all-consuming immortal organization. To challenge this, the article explicitly draws on the vampire and the vampiric in literature and popular culture to consider the possibility of subverting existing notions of the ‘older worker’ in order to confront and challenge the subtle and persistent monstrous discourses that shape organizational life.

We found this an insightful and useful conceptualisation of constructions of ageing and would be interested to see how a similar lens sheds light  on the construction of youth (fresh blood).  The identity of the vampire in complex and varied organizational contexts would also be good to open up for further examination.

One Comment
  1. Paula Fitzgerald permalink

    Aaahh! INGENIOUS!!

    Riach and Kelly’s (2013) offers this ingenious ‘vampiric’ lens to investigate how organisations perpetuate their existence through less obvious discourses and practices. They argue that organisations fear their own mortality, and their fear is translated into negativity towards older workers (“usually aged 50-65” in this article) despite their “best intention of policy and managerial practice”. Very cleverly, the authors use the well-known Gothic horror novel (Count Dracula) as an imaginative metaphor to enable them to focus attention on the interrelationship between the organisation and its body of employees (both young and old) rather than on the older employee as the subject of ‘age in the workplace’.

    Their vampiric lens opens up a fertile field of thought that may enable the ageism debate to better understand the tension between organisational sustainability on the one hand, and the needs of the individual in the workplace on the other. Are we, as mere mortal (biologically governed by the inevitable passing of chronological age), being seduced by the more powerful and all-consuming corporate rhetoric of complicit ‘eternal life’? Whilst in that process, are we unwittingly surrendering our own essence to the vampiric discourse of organisational need that, for its continued existence, feeds upon the young and jettisons the older worker? In an ageing society, can these diametrically opposed needs be reconciled? Riach and Kelly (2013) postulate that “[…] it is not enough to suggest that ageism will disappear indirectly through an osmotic process of legislation, diversity training, or an increasing number of older people [available] in the labour market.” With witty proficiency, the authors suggest that we may be enabled to better address the question “Is there ever a right age in the realm of employment?” Or are workers forever consigned to be the feedstock and life-blood exploited by the corporation and then left to fend for themselves when their essence and (perceived) ‘best years’ have been extracted? Riach and Kelly’s stance is to call for “an agenda that understands ageing as a mutually constituting principle of organisational life”.

    The question remains however: how is this going to happen? UK employers can, and have, successfully already argued that discriminating on the basis of age, in the face of a combination of economic factors, business needs, and efficiency may be considered legitimate aims, unlike other protected characteristics included in the 2010 Equality Act.

    The Riach and Kelly (2013) paper is highly recommended reading not only for those interested in researching age at work, but also in understanding contemporary organisations.

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