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

The techniques and disciplinary practices associated with the discourse of workplace spirituality can also be framed in terms of the notion of pastoral power (Foucault, 1981, 1982). Pastoral power can be distinguished from other forms of power by being both ‘totalizing’, concerned with cultivating the welfare of an entire population of citizens, and ‘individualizing’, a form of power that looks after each individual in particular, throughout his or her entire life (Foucault, 1982). Foucault traces the roots of pastoral power to the Christian metaphor of the shepherd, whose role is to gather together dispersed individuals as a flock and ensure their salvation by keeping watch over them. (p.340)


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


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