White Collar: The American Middle Classes is a pioneering and major study of the American middle class by a prominent sociologist C. Wright Mills, published in 1951. In this book Mills analyzes various aspects of the forming of a new class of the white-collar workers and the social alienation in the (American) advanced capitalism. Mills also probes modern urbanism dominated by bureaucratic units of management and “salesmanship mentality”. In this line of thought, he elaborates the concept of “personality market“, whose theoretical richness and analytical relevance, in my view, have been significantly amplifying since the release of the book, especially in the shadow of the neoliberal myth of meritocracy, pervasive commercialization and the expansion of social media:
“In a society of employees dominated by the marketing mentality, it is inevitable that a personality market should arise. For in the great shift from manual skills to the art of ‘handling’, selling and servicing people, personal or even intimate traits of employees are drawn into the sphere of exchange and become commodities in the labor market… Kindness and friendliness become aspects of personalized service or of public relations of big firms, rationalized to further the sale of something. With anonymous insincerity, the Successful Person thus makes an instrument of his own appearance and personality. (p. 182)
And from the areas of salesmanship proper, the requirements of the personality market have diffused as a style of life. What began as the public and commercial relations of business have become deeply personal: there is a public-relations aspect to private relations of all sorts including even relations with oneself…
The personality market, the most decisive effect and symptom of the great salesroom, underlies the all pervasive distrust and self-alienation so characteristic of metropolitan people. Without common values and mutual trust, the cash nexus that links one man to another in transient contact has been made subtle in a dozen ways, and made to bite deeper into all areas of life and relations. People are required by the salesman ethic and convention to pretend interest in others in order to manipulate them… Men are estranged from one another as each secretly tries to make an instrument of the other, and in time a full circle is made: one makes an instrument of himself and is estranged from it also.” (Mills 1951: 187-8)
See the full book (in various open-access formats) here:
Mills, C. Wright. 1951. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. New York: Oxford University Press.