The Melancholic Subject: A study of self-blame as a gendered and neoliberal psychic response to loss of the 'perfect worker': A study of self-blame as a gendered and neoliberal psychic response to loss of the 'perfect worker'

Darren Baker, Deborah N. Brewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Citation (Scopus)


It has been argued that accountancy and finance have struggled to promote gender equality despite their intentions and efforts to do so. The paper contributes to explanations for this ongoing inequality by theorising the psychic life of women working in these fields, as displayed in their reflections on moments where they have failed to embody an identity that is the discursive and structural ideal within the profession. The ‘perfect worker’ is an idealised subjectivity modelled on the traditional male career and inflected by neoliberalism. Prior critiques of ‘postfeminism’ identify a pattern of self-blaming for inequality among women, but do not explain how and why they readily responsibilize themselves. Drawing on Freud’s theory of melancholia we suggest self-blame is the result of an unconscious confrontation with the loss of the perfect worker ideal: the ego’s response leading to a destructive cycle of self-reproach and atonement. The implication of melancholia is that structural contributors to inequality are reinforced. Furthermore, we develop Freud’s melancholia to theorise a contemporary manifestation that sees neoliberalism acting in concert with the psyche’s predisposition to defense, precipitating an epidemic of individualisation. This implies that neoliberalism employs a form of ‘perfectionist power’ that reinforces oppression at the level of the unconscious. We conclude that the advancement of equality requires a deliberate intervention in the melancholic cycle by moving the psyche into a process of mourning that recognises sociality as a condition of solidaristic resistance.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101093
JournalAccounting, Organizations and Society
Early online date4 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


  • gender inequality
  • accountancy
  • finance
  • psychoanalysis
  • psychosocial
  • ideal worker
  • melancholia
  • Freud
  • Neoliberalism
  • solidarity
  • gender

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