White-Collar Blues: The Making of the Transnational Turkish Middle Class

Mustafa Yavas, Sociology, New York University Abu Dhabi
Alienation Theory and Research, Comparative Sociology, Developing Nations, Economic Sociology, Economy and Society, Historical and Comparative Sociology, Labour Market, Local-Global Relations, Migration, Political Economy, Political Sociology, Social Classes and Social Movements, Sociology, Sociology of Culture, Stratification, Theory, Work
Keywords - quality of working life, middle classes, transnational corporations

What makes a “good job” good or bad? Drawing from the case of Turkey, White-Collar Blues sheds light on this fundamental question by examining how professional-managerial jobs leave some occupants with a discouraging quality of (working) life. Following the global tide of neo-liberalization, Turkey embraced freer circulation of capital as did many other emerging economies in the Global South. As transnational corporations (TNCs) outshone the Turkish state and companies in attracting highly educated professionals, the best jobs in the Turkish labor market have increasingly concentrated at TNCs since the 1980s. Drawing from more than 100 in-depth interviews with the Turkish members of the global elite workforce in Istanbul and New York, I follow them through selection into, surviving within, and opting out of sought-after jobs at TNCs, such as McKinsey, Microsoft, and Unilever. Despite their upward mobility and success in achieving the American Dream as it beckons transnationally in Turkey through employment at TNCs, many business professionals’ narratives resonate with what I call white-collar blues: feelings of disappointment and exhaustion. Extending from the Turkish case, I develop a theory of middle-class alienation that accounts for how the investments of the middle class and their high hopes for their careers clash with the experience of poor work-life balance, low intrinsic satisfaction, and a lack of meaning from their labor.