For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Elevation of Work: Pastoral Power and the New Age Work Ethic"

by Bell, Emma; Taylor, Scott (2003)


This paper seeks to establish the contours of the popular workplace spirituality discourse through analysis of academic and practitioner texts and accounts of organizational practice. We identify several themes, drawing attention to potential contradictions in the notions of meaning, measurement and community, which the discourse seeks to promote. In seeking to understand the means whereby it is embodied as a source of administrative power we draw on a range of historical and contemporary organizational examples, illustrating how pastoral power is reinforced through the construction of disciplinary technologies. We argue that the workplace spirituality discourse shares Weber's acceptance of the structural conditions of capitalism and seeks to resolve the dilemmas this creates for the individual through developing an inner sense of meaning and virtue. In this respect, it represents a revival of the Protestant ethic in a way that involves re-visioning the ambivalent relationship between self and organization. We conclude that the `social ethic' has given way to a New Age work ethic, which relies on the management of individual metaphysics as a source of organizational, as well as personal, transformation.

Key Passage

It has been argued that Foucault’s studies of the disciplinary society complement Weber’s formal analysis of the modern bureaucratic state despite certain key differences between the two theorists in terms of their conceptions of power (Clegg, 1994). Whereas Weber set out the formal analytic features of the legal–rational bureaucracy, Foucault complements this perspective by exploring the ‘physiology’ of bureaucracy and power through analysis of corporeal, attitudinal and behavioural disciplinary techniques (O’Neill, 1986). Most importantly, the work of both theorists converges around one central issue, the techniques through which individuals are subjected – and subject themselves – to rational discipline. Finally, both Weber and Foucault acknowledged religion and spirituality as being central to understanding the structures and disciplinary procedures of modern life and work (Foucault, 1981, 1982; Weber, 1930). (p.337)


Work Ethic, Pastoral Power, Foucault, Weber, Workplace Spirituality, Spirit, Power, Power Relations


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