For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Work as affective experience: the contribution of Christophe Dejours’‘psychodynamics of work’"

by Dashtipour, Parisa; Vidaillet, Bénédicte (2017)


Psychoanalytic perspectives (such as the Kleinian/Bionian and Lacanian literature) have made significant contributions to the study of affect in organizations. While some have pointed out the affects involved in work tasks, most of this literature generally focuses on the affects linked to organizational life (such as learning, leadership, motivation, power, or change). The center of attention is not on affects associated with the work process itself. We draw from the French psychodynamic theory of Christophe Dejours—who is yet to be known in English language organization studies—to make the following contributions. First, we show the relationship between affect and working by discussing Dejours’ notions of affective suffering, the real of work, the significance of the body, and ‘ordinary sublimation’. Second, we advance critical research in organization studies by demonstrating the centrality of work in the affective life of the subject. Third, the article reinterprets Menzies’ well-known hospital case study to illustrate how Dejours’ theory extends existing psychoanalytical approaches, and especially to point to the significant role of the work collective in supporting workers to work well. We conclude by suggesting that if the centrality of work in the affective life of the subject is acknowledged, it follows that resistance strategies, and work collectives’ struggle for emancipation, should focus on reclaiming work.

Key Passage

In contrast to the perspectives inspired by the Tavistock Institute (such as Menzies Lyth, 1991 and followers), Lacanian scholars hold a pessimistic (or ambiguous) position with regards to the role of work in the health of subjects. These researchers focus rather on ideological and fantasmatic discourses on work (see in particular the chapters in the edited book by Cederström and Hoedemaekers, 2010).2 Affective discourses of boundaryless careers, creativity, personal development, self-fulfillment, and freedom subtly control workers, especially when such discourses match objectives of production and efficiency (Bloom, 2015; Bloom and Cederström, 2009). Ekman (2013) understands passion and emotional devotion to work as an ideological fantasy, which combines ‘free-market ideals about limitless financial expansion on the one hand and existential ideals about limitless self-realization on the other’ (p. 20). Lacanian researchers often demonstrate how discourses that present the work organization and work as the route to freedom disguise work intensification and the ‘un-free’ nature of workplaces (Fleming, 2010; Spicer and Cederström, 2010). Affect is studied in relation to ideological function of fantasies about work and how they shape the affective meaning subjects attach to work, rather than in relation to the actual conduct of work, which refers to the affective experiences of the worker while working (p.21)


Dejours, Emancipation, Reclaiming Work, Affect, Psychoanalysis, Psychodynamics Of Work, Collective, Organisation Studies


Dejours, Christophe, Psychological Centrality of Work

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