School of Business and Management

Sarah Ryer

 Sarah Ryer


Tel: +44 (0)20 7882 8570
Location: Mile End, Bancroft Building

1st Supervisor: Professor Gerard Hanlon
2nd Supervisor: Dr Rowland Curtis

Project Title: 

"Personal Development Training: A Genealogy of the Self-Actualising Subject"

Project Description:

Falling within the remit of Human Resource Management, Personal Development Training (PDT) is an ambiguous terminology used to group together corporate-sponsored initiatives focused on employee growth and development. Ranging from executive coaching to psychometric testing to workshops on assertiveness, PDT is centred around managing and maximising an employee’s ‘potential.’ Such initiatives concentrate on fostering improvement at the individual level of the organisation: harvesting fluid “soft skills,” rather than “hard” technical skills. PDT signals a shift away from an alienating Taylorist dichotomy between body and mind, towards a more ‘holistic’ managerial agenda. In this context, the whole person falls under management’s purview, committed to perpetual optimisation and encouraged on a path towards ‘self-actualisation.’ The workplace is thus recast as a site for the constant cultivation of the self. This becomes increasingly crucial in the contemporary Post-Fordist era: the need for the employee to continually reinvent and improve herself is further driven by the growing instability of the job market and the erosion of Fordist ‘planned’ careers. Notably, although this situation is seemingly “natural” and “normal,” it is actually the culmination of a series of purposeful managerial and political projects, as envisioned by Maslow.

As the parameters between work and self are blurred, the boundaries between work-fulfilment and self-fulfilment become more indistinct. As such, the study of managerial initiatives like PDT is a key resource through which to apprehend contemporary subjectivity and mutations of work. I will consider PDT as a technology of governance, instrumental in the shaping of self-actualising subjects. The project will be grounded in a genealogical investigation of PDT, unearthing its ideological base and unpacking PDT through the (at times) overlapping trajectories of the Human Potential Movement, Humanistic Psychology, and Cybernetics. A broader focus will be the way in which Personal Development and New Age ideas are fed into management, locating the investigation within Boltanski & Chiapello’s (2005) framework of the ‘new spirit’ of capitalism.

The research forms an open-ended enquiry, addressing of a group of questions: Where does this idea of constant invention and limitless growth stem from? What are its conditions of possibility? Why does it emerge? What is it trying to do? What is the ideological critique? What does it tell us about modern subjectivity and work?