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Work, Power and Performance: Analysing the 'reality' game of The Apprentice

Littler, J. & Couldry, N. (2011). Work, Power and Performance: Analysing the 'reality' game of The Apprentice. Cultural Sociology, 5(2), pp. 263-279. doi: 10.1177/1749975510378191


This article addresses the relationship between the British version of the reality television programme The Apprentice and the shifting working cultures of contemporary neoliberalism. It explores how the programme enacts, through ritualized play, many skills required by the ‘flexible’ work economy: emotional commitment, entrepreneurial adaptability, a combination of team conformity and personal ambition. In particular, it highlights how newly calibrated requirements of sociality, ‘passion’, and power-as-charisma are negotiated by the programme in relation to broader emergent norms of neoliberal governmentality. However, the article simultaneously argues against overly deterministic deployments of governmentality theory, suggesting it be both supplemented by other tools (media rituals and the affective role of passion), and reoriented back towards a Foucauldian emphasis upon the instability of power. This can, it argues, both enable the programme’s appeal to be more effectively understood and help us comprehend the spaces and places where neoliberal governmentality fails, wholly or partly, to be foregrounded.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: The final, definitive version of this paper has been published in Cultural Sociology, 5 (2), July 2011 by SAGE Publications Ltd, All rights reserved. © Littler, J.
Publisher Keywords: governmentality, neoliberalism, passion, reality television, The Apprentice
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
SWORD Depositor:
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