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Abstract

Under capitalism, survival depends on paid work. Yet, over the last few decades, the quality of work has declined precipitously, subjecting workers to increasingly threatening conditions. Relying on work for income, identity, and community is proving more and more risky. Recently a movement has emerged that seeks to challenge the financial and cultural grip that work holds over the lives of individuals. Dubbed “Financial Independence Retire Early” or “FIRE,” as it is commonly known, this community rejects the social expectation that work should serve as the central focus of one’s life. Through aggressive saving and investing, FIRE followers aim to liberate themselves from mandatory work. Though some followers, more focused on the ‘FI’ dimension of the movement, seek to build a financial foundation that grants them greater work flexibility and personal control, others, more intent on ‘RE,’ aim to withdraw from the labor market and live entirely off their investment income. This ethnography draws upon participant observation in Facebook groups dedicated to the movement as well as semi-structured, in-depth interviews with members of the community. This study examines both the motivations compelling individuals to join the movement as well as the effects participation has on their lives.

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