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Lionel Wee and Ann Brooks Cultural Sociology 2010 4: 45 originally published online 4 March 2010 DOI: 10.1177/1749975509356754 The online version of this article can be found at: http://cus.sagepub.com/content/4/1/45

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Cultural Sociology
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Personal Branding and the Commodification of Reflexivity


I

Lionel Wee
National University of Singapore

Ann Brooks
University of Adelaide, Australia

A B S T RACT

Reflexivity as a concept has produced theoretical debates which have explored the relationship of social actors to agency and identity. Less attention has been paid to reflexivity as a commodity, that is, to the forms of reflexivity that different actors display and to the appropriateness of these forms. Actors who display appropriate forms of reflexivity are likely to be treated differently from actors who do not display such forms, thus resulting in a differential distribution of agency. It is increasingly apparent that reflexivity is a desired commodity which is not available to everyone. In other words, reflexivity as commodity implicates reflexivity as cultural capital. This article explores these issues through an analysis of personal branding and considers how reflexivity and personal branding are in fact emergent from cultural production.
K E Y WOR D S

commodification / habitus / personal branding / reflexivity / commodity / identity

Introduction
he study of enterprise culture has focused primarily on its effects in promoting a cultural reconstruction of work-based identities (Cameron, 2000a, 2000b; Du Gay, 1996; Fairclough, 1995; Miller and Rose, 1990). According to Du Gay (1996: 56), an enterprise culture is one in which certain enterprising qualities such as self-reliance, personal responsibility, boldness

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and a willingness to take risks in the pursuit of goals are regarded as human virtues and promoted as such. As applied to the workplace, Miller and Rose (1990: 27) argue that the entrepreneurial self no longer sees work as a constraint upon the freedom of the individual [but rather as] an essential element in the path to self-realization. The worker is thus re-imagined as a highly motivated individual who derives gratification from satisfying the needs of consumers, by providing them with a range of desired goods or services (Fairclough, 1995: 11516). The pervasiveness of enterprise culture, however, has also led to observations that it is coming to influence many different aspects of social life beyond the workplace, with Rose (1990: 227) pointing out that:
The self is not merely enabled to choose, but obliged to construe a life in terms of its choices, its powers, and its values Each of the attributes of the person is to be realized through decisions, justified in terms of motives, needs and aspirations, made intelligible to the self and others in terms of the unique but universal search to find meaning and satisfaction through the construction of a life for oneself.

This obligation of the self to choose wisely and to understand and justify its own values points to the increasing importance of reflexivity in late modern societies (Beck, 1992; Giddens, 1991), and is attested in the search for expert advice on health and well-being through exercise, dieting, drugs, spiritual regimens of various kinds, psychic self-help and psychiatry (Lasch, 1977: 140; see also Giddens, 1992). But it is also natural that, at some point, the search should become one for advice on reflexivity itself, on how to be more self-aware, on the assumption that this will enable the self to make better choices with regard to both itself and to others. Expert advice on how to be more reflexive, then, points to the commodification of reflexivity itself, where knowledge concerning reflexivity skills is being marketed for consumption. A particularly good example of such advice on reflexivity can be seen in strategies of personal branding.1 An actors personal brand is the impression that others may have of him/her. Here is a description from Gad (2001: 171, emphasis added):
Personal branding involves defining who you really are, clarifying yourself. Many people dont like this, they prefer to hide they need a process of self-reflection, which for most people will be the introduction to inner self-development. The benefit of this process is that you have to explore and express your own view of yourself and how you actually want to be perceived.

People are described as needing a process of self-reflection, which can bring benefits. Personal branding strategies have thus become big business for many firms specializing in image consultancy. They can easily be found in books, as well as workshops and seminars conducted by branding gurus. In this article, we draw on three such sources, to varying degrees of detail. Our most detailed discussion focuses on the contents of a book entitled Be Your Own Brand: A Breakthrough Formula for Standing Out from the Crowd, by David McNally and Karl D. Speak (a list of other similar books is given in the notes).2 We also briefly mention extracts from the Personal Branding Group3
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and webgrrls international.4 The former is a coaching programme that teaches top-level professionals how to position themselves as The Person to See (original emphasis), and the latter is a business technology website for women. Personal branding strategies are clearly aimed at developing reflexivity because they encourage actors to engage in careful and critical self-assessment about their relative strengths and weaknesses. The ultimate goal is for an actor to make use of this self-knowledge to better influence how he/she is perceived. The study of personal branding strategies, then, allows us an opportunity to investigate the cultural dimensions of reflexivity,5 at least in this particular location of social life where it has become commodified as a set of acquirable skills. Such a study can provide insights into the kinds of social facts regarding reflexivity that are being circulated for consumption and internalization by actors, notwithstanding the fact that any internalization process is a complex one (Spiro, 1987). Our interest in this article therefore lies in examining the prescribed strategies themselves, since these delineate the normative parameters that are taken to constitute reflexive awareness by branding experts. In the next section, we briefly review various debates over the notion of reflexivity followed by an analysis of personal branding.

Reflexivity Debates
Adams (2006) provides a useful guide to the debates over reflexivity when he distinguishes between two dominant tropes, one claiming that reflexivity increasingly constitutes self-identity in late-modern societies (2006: 512), and another suggesting that reflexive awareness is necessarily rare (2006: 514). The main contrast between these two positions lies in 1) 2) the extent to which social actors can actually be said to be reflexive, and whether from such reflexivity necessarily follows the possibility for actors actively to fashion their identities.

In other words, the points of contention between these positions revolve around the issues of scope (How widespread is reflexive awareness?) and agency (Does reflexivity necessarily mean that individuals now have a greater opportunity to shape their identities?). The first position is associated prominently with the works of Beck (1992, 1994) and Giddens (1991, 1992). The core idea here is that individuals find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to rely on institutional structures and traditions to help make sense of social life. The consequent need for self-reliance creates a reflexive awareness of the contingent relationship that individuals bear to their surrounding material conditions. Kennedy usefully summarizes the extended reflexivity thesis (Adams, 2003) as follows:
individuals are compelled to take greater control over the kinds of social identities they wish to assume because once-powerful solidarities such as class, occupation, church, gender and family are slowly declining in their ability to define our life experiences. (Kennedy, 2001: 6, emphasis added)

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Because traditional sources of identity no longer define our life experiences, the resulting vacuum creates not just the need for actors to become reflexively aware, it also leaves open a host of possibilities and opportunities for actors to take control of the kinds of identity work they wish to engage in. Hence, for proponents of this extended reflexivity thesis, the increase in the scope of reflexivity is treated as simultaneously marking a concomitant increase in agency, as seen in the claims (cited in Adams, 2006: 513) that people have to turn to their own resources to decide what they value, to organize their priorities and to make sense of their lives (Heelas, 1996: 5) and the self today is for everyone a reflexive project (Giddens, 1992: 30). The second position, in contrast, is much more skeptical about the ubiquity of reflexivity. And even where reflexivity is acknowledged to be present, this position tends to be also more skeptical about the possibility of actors actually shaping their identities. This second position has been most widely explored with respect to the issue of gender, and takes its inspiration from Bourdieus (1977, 1990) argument that actors in a social field carry with them a habitus that predisposes them to respond in ways that tend to reproduce the existing social structure. A good example comes from McNays (1999, 2000; see also Skeggs, 1997) argument that even though ongoing social changes may have led to a mismatch between (gendered) habitus and field, such mismatches and any emergent reflexivity must always be understood in field specific terms. For McNay, reflexivity is not an inherently universal capacity of subjects; it emerges instead only with the experience of dissonance. Consequently, even as certain aspects of gender relations are destabilized, other aspects may yet be further entrenched (McNay, 1999: 103). Also inspired by Bourdieu, Krais (1993: 173) suggests that some kind of critical reflexivity is a conditio sine qua non for the liberation of women. Nevertheless, she also suggests that constant redefinitions of what counts as skilled work make it extremely difficult to envision any dismantling of current gendered social arrangements in the labour market, since it is the definition of skill, of who is skilled and who is not, of who is a professional and who is not, that creates the difference between mens and womens jobs (1993: 166). Krais illustrates this in her discussion of the transformation of job definitions in the French printing industry in the late 1960s (1993: 166):
When the first female typesetters were hired at the Clavier enchnan, the men went on strike for three days. As a result, union and management came to an agreement that fixed a new definition of skills: women would do the unskilled work that is, type in a continuous flow whereas men would do the skilled work, that is, type with corrections and margin justifications It was simply denied that the work tasks of the women required skills similar to those of the men; this denial is the normal mechanism of devaluing the work done by women.

While these two tropes or positions6 differ importantly in how they approach the issue of reflexivity, the differences internal to each should be noted as well. Among theorists associated with the first position, the claim that reflexivity is widespread has led, not surprisingly, to proposals for distinguishing between different types of reflexivity. Lash (1994: 135; see also Lash and Urry, 1994)

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has, for example, made a distinction between cognitive and aesthetic reflexivity. Cognitive reflexivity refers to agents monitoring of conceptual symbols (flows of information) whereas aesthetic reflexivity refers to their monitoring of mimetic symbols (images, sounds and narratives making up the other side of our sign economics). In response to Lash, Giddens (1994: 197) has disputed this distinction, suggesting that the cognitive-aesthetic separation is not quite as clearcut as Lash makes it out to be:
Is there such a thing as aesthetic reflexivity? I dont really think so or at least I wouldnt put it this way. I am not at all sure that, as Lash puts it, there is an entire other economy of signs in space that functions separately from cognitive symbols.

For social theorists coming from the second position, the concern is with addressing the rather pricklier question of how the existence of a habitus can be reconciled with reflexive awareness. This is because the Bourdieusian habitus reflects an unconscious mastery (cf. Bourdieu, 1977: 79) of how actors are expected to respond in relation to a specific field and, as a result, cannot be touched by voluntary, deliberate transformation (1977: 94). The unconscious nature of the habitus and the conscious deliberation associated with reflexive awareness together create a conceptual conundrum since it is not clear how the former can (ever) give rise to the latter, or how the two can co-exist. One possibility is to start with the general Bourdieusian picture of a fit between habitus and field, but to then argue that as actors move across fields, this degree of fit is likely to vary. As noted above, this is the tack taken by McNay, who suggests that where the lack of fit is sufficiently strong, actors may then experience a sense of dissonance, which rudely forces them to become reflexively aware of their relations to their surrounding social structures. In this picture, the sufficiently wide disjuncture between field and habitus that prompts reflexive awareness is more the exception than the rule. However, McNays proposal has been countered by the argument that such habitus-field disjunctures are in fact sufficiently common as to constitute a prevailing characteristic of actors experiences this is arguably the case in a highly mobile society or a society undergoing rapid social changes. But while it is conceded that this might mean that reflexive awareness is fairly widespread, any assertions concerning a rise in agency are mitigated by the suggestion that it is now appropriate to speak of reflexivity itself having become incorporated into the habitus (Adkins, 2003; Sweetman, 2003). Thus, Adkins (2003: 35) makes the point that even the presence of reflexivity may not be sufficient to warrant any discussion of agency since it may be the case that reflexive practices are so habituated that they are part of the very norms, rules and expectations that govern gender in later modernity, even as they may ostensibly appear to challenge these very notions. At this point, it seems clear if any kind of agency is to be recovered from the concept of a habituated reflexivity, the understanding of the habitus has to be changed in a fundamental way. Skeggs (2004a: 25, 29), in fact, makes this clear when she argues that the habitus (contra Bourdieu) is fundamentally characterized by ambivalence, since identities are a limited

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resource, a form of cultural capital that are worked and uncomfortably inhabited. Skeggs (2004a: 25, 29) thus points out that:
Bourdieu cannot account for that ambivalence, as Adkins (2003) shows, because he places ambivalence outside of the realm of practice, he understands norms to be incorporated he assumes that the field is a precondition of the habitus and the habitus will always submit to the field.

The suggestion that ambivalence is a critical feature of the habitus is useful. But it is still insufficient to address the issue of reflexivity since ambivalence and reflexivity are independent properties. One could be ambivalent without being aware of being ambivalent. And one could adopt a meta-perspective on ones social situation without necessarily feeling ambivalence. The latter is the case in a social milieu that actively encourages a critical attitude towards the self. Bonham suggests that there are clear historical precedents where, in the context of particular communities or social movements, care for the self can open up a cultural space for greater self-interpretation and deliberate choice (1999: 146). Examples that he gives include the various aesthetic and moral disciplines pursued by the Greeks, Buddhists and Jesuits. Despite the different points of contention in the above debates, what seems to be missing is attention to reflexivity as a commodity. This is because even if proponents of the extended reflexivity thesis are correct in claiming that widespread societal changes are making it ever more imperative for actors to be reflexive, we need to pay greater attention to how reflexivity is recognized and manifested. Actors who display appropriate forms of relexivity are likely to be treated differently than actors who do not, thus resulting in a differentiated distribution of agency. Skeggs (2002: 349) points out that the concept of a reflexive self was a specific historical production that was produced through particular methodologies and distributed along class lines. Understood as a desired commodity, reflexivity is a good that everyone wants but only a few are accorded. Notice that this position does not require treating reflexivity as a function of habitusfield mismatches. But neither does it automatically assume that reflexivity is available to everyone. Thus, even if proponents of the extended reflexivity thesis are correct in claiming that widespread societal changes are making it ever more imperative for actors to be reflexive, we need to pay greater attention to how reflexivity is recognized and manifested. Actors who display appropriate forms of reflexivity are likely to be treated differently than actors who do not, thus resulting in a differentiated distribution of agency. In other words, reflexivity as commodity implicates reflexivity as cultural capital. And as we hope to demonstrate below, a sociological study of personal branding strategies can provide interesting insights into the commodification of reflexivity.

Personal Branding
As mentioned earlier, while personal branding strategies come in the form of seminars or books, for ease of illustration, we have decided to focus mainly on

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the strategies prescribed in McNally and Speaks (2002) Be Your Own Brand: A Breakthrough Formula for Standing Out from the Crowd as an example. These strategies can be divided into two stages. The first concerns the development of a personal brand. This involves an excavation of the self in order that the actor can identify his/her true nature, including the kinds of values and relationships that he/she considers important. Having done this, the actor is then given advice on how to manage his/her personal brand, that is, how his/her identified nature and values can be sustained and reflected in ongoing personal and professional interactions. We begin by discussing the strategies for developing a personal brand.

Developing a Personal Brand


According to McNally and Speak (2002: 62): Defining your personal brand dimensions and refining them into a personal brand platform involves identifying the competencies, standards and style that go into each relationship people have with you. McNally and Speak then propose the following three steps (2002: 637): Step One: Identify the Areas Where Your Competencies Matter; Step Two: Examine Your Standards and Values; Step Three: Define Your Style. In Step One, the actor is asked to note down the important relationships in his/her life (e.g. being a spouse, a friend, or a parent, etc.) since these are the relationships where the personal brand will be tested (2002: 63). In Step Two, the actor is asked to identify his/her brand standards by reflecting on [t]he three to five characteristics that consistently come to the fore when you review situations in which you performed well (2002: 64). Possibilities include the following (McNally and Speak, 2002: 64):
Was it your responsiveness? Your tenacity? Your clear thinking? Your high energy? The thoughtfulness of your approach? Your willingness to take the lead or be a team player or supportive resource?

And finally, in Step Three, the actor is asked (2002: 65) to:
think of the unique parts of your personality that make an impact on other people when you are at the top of your game. Do people consistently react to your positive attitude? Your humorous demeanor? Your straightforward approach? Your sense of calm? Your sincerity? Your sense of whimsy or your formal, no-nonsense personality?

These steps assume that there are a limited number of definable roles that an actor occupies, and furthermore, that a particular label such as friend or spouse suffices to capture the specifics of what is important in a particular relationship. These steps also assume that there exists a list of stable traits that any actor consistently displays across a small variety of (important) situations.

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Each actor is assumed to possess a constellation of characteristics that uniquely constitute his/her personality, thus denying the relational and emergent nature of identity. And furthermore, the actor should be able to access the relevant information, that is, identify the traits, the relevant situations and his/her uniqueness, by a process of introspection. These assumptions may appear uncontroversial to many, and this is to be expected since personal branding strategies draw on conceptions of personhood and interpersonal relations popular in Western culture (cf. Quinn, 1992: 93; Skeggs, 2004b: 75). The person is conceived as an autonomously existing entity in possession of particular characteristics that define him/her even though most scholars would agree that self-identity is not a distinctive trait, or even a collection of traits, possessed by the individual (Giddens, 1991: 53). As with many forms of expert advice, personal branding strategies therefore presuppose a fabrication of the autonomous self constituted through various practices of power, meaning and virtue (Rose, 1990: 217). Also, an actor who actually displays his/her defining characteristics is being true to himself/herself, and here we see that the assumptions of personhood involve a moral dimension, which is the injunction that one should in fact be true to oneself. This moral dimension is explicit in the emphasis that personal branding strategies place on the notion of authenticity. Thus, it is claimed that (McNally and Speak, 2002: 478): The most intimate relationship you have is with yourself. Consequently, a strong personal brand is a powerful way for the world to see and value the authentic you. The above problematically takes what is in actuality a culture-specific conception of reflexivity and, by implication, of the self, and presents these as universal facts about all humans, since personal branding is presented as an essential goal for all individuals. Thus, according to the Personal Branding Group: Personal branding is also not an option. Everyone has one; your current personal brand is either positive, negative or neutral. The challenge for more professionals is that they lack the discipline necessary to define their personal brands. There is therefore a cultural imperialism here that seeks to impose a set of norms that might be problematic in cultures whose notions of personhood and modes of social organization diverge markedly from the Western/Anglo mode (Cameron, 2002: 80). Thus, there is a cultural bias embedded in the presupposition that traits such as tenacity, high energy or sense of whimsy are (naturally!) positively valued. Personal branding strategies also downplay the complexity of social interaction, yet ironically they also stress its importance since (it is claimed) if interactions are not properly handled, then the goal of building a strong personal brand will, ultimately, be an unsuccessful one. Thus:
To build a strong personal brand, you need to make a conscious effort to manage the relationships in your life so that their interactions are memorable for all the right reasons: because they are a distinctive reflection of you, because they are relevant to someone else, and because they are consistent enough that both parties develop a

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sense of stability and predictability on which to build future interactions. (McNally and Speak, 2002: 72, original emphasis)

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The management of a personal brand therefore fundamentally impacts on the management of the actors interpersonal relationships. The actor is asked to always leave an impression that is both memorable and distinctive. The possibility that memorability and distinctiveness may at times conflict with each other, or undermine the very interaction itself, is not seriously considered. And significantly, as we see below, the actor is encouraged to think of himself/herself as a service provider in all his/her interactions, where the service being provided is the actor himself/herself. There is a strong irony here regarding the phenomenon of synthetic personalization. Fairclough (1989: 62, original emphasis, as quoted in Cameron, 2000b: 62) observes that:
One finds techniques for efficiently and nonchalantly handling people wherever one looks in the public institutions of the modern world. Equally, one finds what I shall refer to as synthetic personalization, a compensatory tendency to give the impression of treating each of the people handled en masse as an individual.

In professional interactions, the goal of synthetic personalization, then, is to give the impression of attending to the needs of each customer as an individual (Cameron, 2000b: 62). This is done by importing patterns of informal interaction (cheerful greetings, vocatives) associated with personal relationships into the workplace. But by calling for actors to project a consistently distinctive personality in all their interactions, personal branding strategies are effectively promoting techniques of synthetic personalization back into personal relationships. Someone whose personal brand involves being calm or humorous is thus expected to consistently project calmness or humour in all their relationships if their brand is to be a strong one. This backward projection of a service perspective into personal relationships is even clearer when we consider the next stage in personal branding, managing a personal brand.

Managing a Personal Brand


According to McNally and Speak (2002: 75), Every brand, including your personal brand, contains an implicit promise [and] a brand promise should reflect the desire and ability to meet another specific persons needs and desires at a particular time. They elaborate (2002: 8990):
The first time a personal relationship provides value for someone else, brand equity starts to accrue You may never have thought of that as evidence of a strong personal brand before, but by now you should be beginning to see patterns You know what you can turn to them for, and you have a pretty good idea of how theyll respond. Thats a branded relationship.

These statements normalize, even celebrate, a service perspective on interpersonal relationships, with actors being encouraged to view themselves in terms of how well they (consistently and distinctively) meet the needs of others.

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Precisely because of this, it is not inaccurate to suggest that the actor himself/ herself is the service, as seen in the following advice on brand promises (McNally and Speak, 2002: 78):
Your brand promise states how you will make a difference in relationships throughout your life. The key is knowing how to apply your brand promise in the different aspects of your life work, marriage, partnerships, parenting and more.

We are effectively encountering a commodification of the actor via his/her brand promise, and this is possibly a logical extension of the pervasiveness of consumer culture. Featherstone (1991) provides an extensive investigation into various goods and sites of consumption, but there is an important sense in which these consumption activities still exist in ways external to the self. Thus Featherstone remarks:
Ones body, clothes, speech, leisure pastimes, eating and drinking preferences, home, car, choice of holidays, etc. are to be regarded as indicators of the individuality of taste and sense of style of the owner/consumer. (1991: 83; see also 1991: 27, 63; Warde, 1982)

Under this view of consumption, actors consume goods of various sorts in order to convey social signals about how they wish to be perceived. And there is no doubt that such considerations are also relevant to personal branding strategies, which is why McNally and Speak (2002: 1234) suggest that:
Your package should be an accurate reflection of whats inside: make sure the impressions youre creating are the ones you want to be creating. Set an impeccable standard for everything that adds up to how others perceive you. Your smile, your facial expressions, your posture, the way you use your hands and your eyes, the words you choose, your tone of voice, how youre dressed, and the environment in which someone finds you all contribute to your brand identity.

However, what is interesting about personal branding is that the actor himself/herself is additionally constructed as a good or service to be consumed by others. Because the actor is constructed as wanting to be commodified, the character of the entrepreneur can no longer be seen as just one among a plurality of ethical personalities but must rather be seen as assuming an ontological priority (Du Gay, 1996: 181, original emphasis). Social interaction consequently takes on a distinctively instrumental perspective, with actors being asked to think of themselves as eagerly and enthusiastically offering in each encounter aspects of their selves that others will (hopefully) find useful and, hence valuable. As a result, [w]hat counts as good or virtuous in this universe is judged by reference to the apparent needs, desires and projected preferences of the sovereign consumer (Du Gay, 1996: 77). And actors are encouraged to search for signals that their marketization of the self is succeeding (or not). To monitor the level of success, actors are exhorted to do the following (McNally and Speak, 2002: 92, 94):
You must constantly measure your brand to understand what it stands for and how it is impacting relationships in your life Pay attention to praise, compliments, and

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other positive feedback. They are evidence that people are giving you credit for a brand strength, something they value and would like to see continue.

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Interactions are thus viewed in terms of how successful they are, and any such success is seen as contributing to the strengthening of the actors personal brand. Successful interactions build the expectation that things will go right the next time, too. If they do, brand equity continues to grow (McNally and Speak, 2002: 87). The reflexive strategies associated with personal branding therefore involve a promotion of the self both to the self and to others. Wernick (1991: 184) argues that promotion in contemporary society is a mode of communication that is extremely widespread at all levels of social communication, and he describes individuals who self-advertise as both promotional authors as well as promotional products, suggesting that:
The subject that promotes itself constructs itself for others in line with the competitive imaging needs of its market. Just like any other artificially imaged commodity, then, the resultant construct a persona produced for public consumption is marked by the transformative effects of the promotional supplement It is a self which continually produces itself for competitive circulation. (1991: 193)

In the world of personal branding, the promotional imperative is in fact constructed as an act of altruism, one that simultaneously benefits both the self-promoting actor and others around him/her. As noted earlier, underlying the personal branding strategies is the view that being authentic is a moral injunction: an actor who is promoting a true vision of himself/herself is not only a happier individual, but also one who is in a better position to help others. Thus:
If you decide who you are and the kinds of relationships that are important to you, and then act consistently on that vision and those values, you are being fundamentally true to yourself. Creating and living a strong personal brand is for others, not just for yourself. Its one of the best investments youll ever make. The world needs strong brands. It respects them. It relies on them. If you can be one, well all be the richer for it. (McNally and Speak, 2002: 126)

Personal branding strategies clearly demand that actors be constantly vigilant. This indicates that there is a strong performative element, since social behaviour is regularly being assessed by the actor (Bauman and Briggs, 1990: 73). A comparison with studies on performances in the work environment is in order. In the kinds of professional performances discussed by Hochschild (1983) and Leidner (1993) of the airline, insurance and fast food industries, workers are expected to engage in emotional labour (Hochschild, 1983: 7), projecting specific emotions (such as sincerity, enthusiasm, or warmth). Thus, workers may be trained in techniques for emotion management such as deep acting, where the worker slowly comes to alter his/her own responses to different situations (Hochschild, 1983: 33), or projecting, where workers imaginatively create excuses for the behaviours of difficult others in order to make interactions more bearable (Hochschild, 1983: 25). And industries may

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monitor the projection of highly specific emotions to the point where workers interactions may be said to be styled or scripted (Cameron, 2000a, 2000b). The issue of personal branding is somewhat different. While the popularity of personal branding is clearly derived from the practice of corporate branding, the main benefit claimed for developing a personal brand is that it helps actors themselves rather than their employers. Thus, McNally and Speak (2002: 61) claim:
When it comes to building a personal brand, your goal is the same as that of a business positioning and managing your brand for long-term health and profitability.

And in a posting on webgrrls international, Jane Tabachnick suggests that because individuals nowadays change jobs much more frequently than in the past, it is imperative to create a familiar and consistent presence and so personal branding is an important part of your overall career strategy, as well as your strategy for all your communications (Tabachnick, n.d.) Consequently, strategies of personal branding do not prescribe the projection of specific personae or emotions. Such content-based decisions are supposed to be up to individual actors since the focus in personal branding is on helping actors to decide for themselves the kinds of personal brands they want to cultivate and emphasizing that any such brand ought to be an authentic reflection of who they truly are. Thus, Tabachnick describes her experience in one such personal branding programme in the following manner: It was a tough process at times, requiring me to be totally, brutally honest about both my strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes (Tabachnick, n.d.). In the case of personal branding strategies, the actor is expected to present a self that is constantly working on itself, to better itself and its own relationships with others, all the while demonstrating that its behaviours are reflections of an authentically unique personality. Consequently, transgressions would arise if actors showed themselves not to be autonomous, self-regulating, productive individuals or to be lacking in energy, initiative, self-reliance and personal responsibility (Du Gay, 1996: 60).

Reflexivity, Agency and Personal Branding: Intersections of Class and Gender


Both reflexivity and personal branding (as a strategy and an outgrowth of, or from, reflexivity) are inevitably intersected by both gender and class. In addition both Skeggs (1997) and Lawler (1999, 2000) have shown that class intersects with gender, differentiating the concept of gendered capital to theorize classed femininity and motherhood respectively (Adkins, 2004: 5). Thus both relexivity and personal branding are variable depending on the particular articulation of class and gender relations that defines an individuals habitus. Reflexivity and personal branding are not static models but are constantly evolving aspects of agency which are implicated by new cultural and structural

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arrangements but also have implications for new forms of classification and agency. McRobbie (2004) maintains that the (post-feminist) production and reproduction of social divisions is now increasingly feminized (Adkins, 2004: 7). McRobbie highlights two interrelated trends in this regard: first, the widening of class divisions between women (and the increasing articulation of class divisions) and, second, the increasing significance of the media field for these new forms of classification (Adkins, 2004: 7). This is illustrated in McRobbies (2004) discussion of television programmes that focus on the makeover or transformation of self with the help of experts in the hope of expectation of improvement of status and life chances through the acquisition of forms of social and cultural capital (2004: 99). While such programmes are ostensibly attempts by grooming and fashion experts to help those lacking in taste, McRobbie suggests that they actually serve to legitimize the denigration of those who have somehow failed to improve themselves. Furthermore, the issue of class is implicated since the divide between those who have the right taste and those who do not depends on successfully acquiring the relevant social and cultural capital (McRobbie, 2004: 100101). While such debates are not new, the re-appearance of class is an important dimension in understanding gendered individualization. Whereas class divisions for women had always been embedded in family, the full participation of women in the workforce has made differences between women in different classes more marked. There are significant disparities of income between women based on age, with older women more disadvantaged. In addition, there are also inequalities in access to education and careers based on ethnicity and race. This is particularly important at a point when, as McRobbie (2004: 106) notes, most young women will no longer rely entirely on a male partner to look after them financially over a lifetime (in post-feminist times this is recognized as a high risk strategy). Beyond this, McRobbie argues that class differences are being revitalized within the media and cultural field so as to reproduce social distinctions. Within the makeover programme, as McRobbie (2004: 103) notes: The victim of the makeover TV programme presents his or her class habitus (including home, family, friends and neighbours and social milieu) for analysis and critique by the experts. As she observes, these programmes would not work without the complicity of the victim. The transformation of habitus and the reproduction of social distinction are operating within cultural and media fields and impact on agency. To be sure, there are interesting differences between makeover programmes and the personal branding strategies that we discussed in the earlier part of the article. The former position the subject as a hapless individual in need of drastic help, often to the point where the makeover is usually initiated by a close friend or family member. The latter, in contrast, are more respectful in tone, gently reminding those they seek to help of the importance of presenting oneself in a manner that creates a strongly positive impression. But these differences go precisely to the issue of class. The targets of makeover programmes are usually middle or lower income ordinary folk, whereas the clients of personal branding strategies are more often than not high-profile

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individuals and top-tier income earners as well as Fortune 500 companies and professional firms.7 Differences of class aside, makeover programmes also contribute to the commodification of reflexivity, by reinforcing to a wider television audience the value of expert advice when attempting to cultivate a socially presentable sense of self. While the targeted subject is ostensibly the one who benefits from the makeover, members of the viewing audience are also expected to pick up relevant tips and, perhaps more importantly, make sure that they avoid degenerating to the point where they, too, might find themselves in need of a makeover. It is here that the intersection of reflexivity and personal branding is significant. Vitellones (2004) work highlights the significance of the media for new forms of social classification; in particular, she provides a convincing argument to show how the habitus is increasingly the subject of cultural production. Both reflexivity and personal branding are emergent from cultural production. From this perspective, the self that emerges from personal branding is a fairly predictable one, as is the kind of reflexivity which promotes an interest in personal branding.

Conclusion
We noted at the beginning of the article that in enterprise culture, individuals are expected to be reflexive, by taking responsibility for the choices they make, including decisions about whether or not to seek appropriate advice on improving the self. We also pointed out that reflexivity itself is also open to commodification, so that the ability to make better choices is itself marketed as an acquirable skill. We acknowledge that it is undoubtedly important to treat reflexivity as a socio-psychological phenomenon, as can be seen in the connections drawn between reflexivity and awareness, dissonance or monitoring of conceptual and mimetic symbols, and so on. But by focusing on personal branding strategies, we have in this article also highlighted the specific ways in which reflexivity is a commodity, access to which depends on expert advice. Attending to reflexivity as a commodity reminds us that there is also the issue of the appropriate manifestation or display of reflexivity. The packaging8 of reflexivity means that people who do not display the requisite reflexivity are seen to be lacking, not fully formed selves, and this lack is moralized and individualized, a failure of the self to know its self (Skeggs, 2004b: 812, emphasis added). Thus, the popularity of personal branding books and seminars, and makeover programmes, suggests that even as some institutional solidities are dissolving, others are being created, some of which are directly aimed at (perhaps even responding to) a perceived need for expert guidance vis-a-vis reflexivity. This is clearly due to the flexibility of the late capitalist economy where anything and everything is potentially commodifiable so that even the need to be reflexive can create a market opportunity where there is a demand for advice from reflexivity experts. Such a situation obviously constitutes a form of symbolic

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domination, which, as Bourdieu (1991: 51) points out, is dependent not only on the complicity of the dominated for its efficacy, but is further facilitated when the search for causes of domination is shifted as is the case with enterprise culture into a search for responsibilities.

Notes
1 King (2006) provides a different, somewhat more restricted, example in her discussion of how Australian activists were explicitly taught skills in self-reflection, in order that they were able to distance themselves from the world they live in and thus better able to identify hegemonic constructions (2006: 873). A list of other relevant texts would include: The Brand You 50: Or: Fifty Ways to Transform Yourself from an Employee into a Brand that Shouts Distinction, Commitment, and Passion! (by Tom Peters), The Brand Called You: The Ultimate Personal Branding Handbook to Transform Anyone into an Indispensable Brand (by Peter Montoya and Tim Vandehey), Make a Name for Yourself: Eight Steps Every Woman Needs to Create a Personal Brand Strategy for Success (by Robin Fisher Roffer), and U R a Brand! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success (by Catherine Kaputa). See http://www.personalbrandinggroup.com, consulted 28 March 2008. See http://www.webgrrls.com, consulted 28 March 2008. Giddens (1991: 80) does touch on the cultural dimensions of reflexivity when he observes that, in response to feelings of anxiety or the need for ontological security, books on self-therapy have become especially popular, even if they invoke conceptions that may be ideological. But his focus is not reflexivity as a commodity. We emphasize that the distinction between these contrasting positions is a broad heuristic rather than a strict dichotomy. The work of Lash (1994), for example, on aesthetic reflexivity, while typically associated with the first position because it accepts the wide scope of reflexivity and its emancipatory/de-traditionalizing potential (Skeggs, 2002: 365), is arguably categorizable as also belonging to the second position since it does attempt to draw on the social theory of Bourdieu. According to http://www.personalbrandinggroup.com, consulted 28 March 2007. Lashs (1994: 130) account of reflexivity winners and losers has a different focus. Lash is concerned with structural changes in modes of economic production that reposition the middle class within the information and communication structures (winners), while excluding others (losers) from these structures. In our article, even within the group of winners, actors need to acquire the specific sets of skills that mark the individual as truly reflexive.

3 4 5

7 8

References
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Adkins, L. (2004) Introduction, in L. Adkins and B. Skeggs (eds), Feminism after Bourdieu, pp. 318. Oxford: Blackwell. Bauman, R. and Briggs, C.L. (1990) Poetics and Performance as Critical Perspectives on Language and Social Life, Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 5988. Beck, U. (1992) Risk Society. London: Sage. Beck, U. (1994) The Reinvention of Politics: Towards a Theory of Reflexive Modernization, in U. Beck et al. (eds), Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order, pp. 155. Cambridge: Polity. Bonham, J. (1999) Practical Reason and Cultural Constraint: Agency in Bourdieus Theory of Practice, in R. Shusterman (ed.), Bourdieu: A Critical Reader, pp. 12952. Oxford: Blackwell. Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice. Translated by R. Nice. Cambridge: Polity. Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Cameron, D. (2000a) Styling the Worker: Gender and the Commodification of Language in the Globalized Service Economy, Journal of Sociolinguistics 4(3): 32347. Cameron, D. (2000b) Good to Talk? London: Sage. Cameron, D. (2002) Globalization and the Teaching of Communication Skills, in D. Block and D. Cameron (eds), Globalization and Language Teaching, pp. 6782. London: Routledge. Du Gay, P. (1996) Consumption and Identity at Work. London: Sage. Fairclough, N. (1989) Language and Power. London: Longman. Fairclough, N. (1995) Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language. London: Longman. Featherstone, M. (1991) Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. London: Sage. Gad, T. (2001) 4-D Branding: Cracking the Corporate Code of the Network Economy. London: Prentice Hall. Giddens, A. (1991) Modernity and Self-identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity. Giddens, A. (1992) The Transformation of Intimacy. Cambridge: Polity. Giddens, A. (1994) Replies and Critiques, in U. Beck et al. (eds), Reflexive Modernization, pp. 174215. Cambridge: Polity. Heelas, P. (1996) Detraditionalization and Its Rivals, in P. Heelas et al. (eds), Detraditionalization, pp. 120. Oxford: Blackwell. Hochschild, A.R. (1983) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Kennedy, P. (2001) Introduction: Globalization and the Crisis of Identities?, in P. Kennedy and C. Danks (eds), Globalization and National Identities: Crisis or Opportunity? pp. 128. New York, NY: Palgrave. King, D.S. (2006) Activists and Emotional Reflexivity: Toward Touraines Subject as Social Movement, Sociology 40(5): 87391. Krais, B. (1993) Gender and Symbolic Violence: Female Oppression in the Light of Pierre Bourdieus Theory of Social Practice, in C. Calhoun et al. (eds), Bourdieu: Critical Perspectives, pp. 15677. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Lasch, C. (1977) Haven in a Heartless World. New York, NY: Basic Books.

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Lionel Wee
Lionel Wee is an associate professor in the Department of English Language & Literature at the National University of Singapore. He is the author of Language Policy and Modernity in Southeast Asia (with A. Rappa), Language Without Rights (forthcoming) and Style, Identity and Literacy: English in Singapore (with C. Stroud, forthcoming). His articles have appeared in Sociology (with Ann Brooks), Applied Linguistics, Journal of Multilingual & Multicultural Development, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Language Policy, Language in Society and World Englishes. He is associate editor of the Journal of Sociolinguistics, and sits on the editorial boards of Applied Linguistics and English World-Wide. Address: Lionel Wee, Dept of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore, Block As 5, 7 Arts Link, S(117570) Singapore. Email: ellweeha@nus.edu.sg

Ann Brooks
Ann Brooks is Professor of Sociology and Cultural Studies at the University of Adelaide, Australia. She is author of Academic Women (Open University Press, 1997); Postfeminisms: Feminism, Cultural Theory and Cultural Forms (Routledge, 1997); Gendered Work in Asian Cities: The New Economy and Changing Labour Markets (Ashgate, 2006), and, with Alison Mackinnon, Gender and the Restructured University: Changing Management and Culture in Higher Education (Open University Press, 2001). She has also published in The British Journal of Sociology (2008), Sociology (with Lionel Wee, 2008), and Theory, Culture and Society, among others. Her forthcoming books are Social Theory in Contemporary Asia: Intimacy, Reflexivity and Identity (Routledge 2010) and Gender and Emotional Labour in Asia (Women in Asia Series, Routledge 2010). Address: Professor Ann Brooks, Sociology and Cultural Studies, School of Social Sciences, Level 5, Ligertwood Building The University of Adelaide, Australia 5005. Email: ann.brooks@adelaide.edu.au

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