What Killed Moritz Erhardt? Internships and the Cultural Dangers of “Positive” Ideas
Moritz Erhardt’s tragic death as an intern at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in August 2013 provides an illustration of the cultural intensity and complexity that has come to imbue internships in higher education degree schemes. We offer an analysis of internships as part of a wider process of dissemination and proliferation of managerial vocabularies and images that underpin certain hyper-performative practices that permeate the powerful cultures stimulated by and sustained in many organizations. We analyze the cultural ground from which such practices might be seen to arise and present an interpretation of how certain “positive” themes and motifs—such as “potentiality,” “self-expression,” or “self-realization”—can become dangerous. These categories become dangerous once they are constituted as ideal measures of an unattainable level of performativity which can then become destabilizing and disorienting for any individual’s sense of self. In this sense, the paper contributes to the growing body of literature investigating the significance of internships in the new cultures of work characterizing the broader context of neoliberalism.
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