For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"“We’re not scum, we’re human”: Agential responses in the face of meaningless work"

by Bailey, Catherine; Madden, Adrian (2019)


In this article, we address a gap in the meaningful work literature by exploring the processes by which work is experienced as meaningless. We adopt the lens of relational sociology and, through interviews with 45 participants in four very different occupations, we found that meaninglessness arises through four relational processes: powerlessness, disconnection, devaluation and self-doubt. Individuals enacted six agential responses to this experience. Two of these, resisting and responsibility-taking, were “reinstatement” strategies and four, acceptance, distancing, minimising and resistance, were “coping” strategies. In addition, some informants used “switching” as a framing device. These responses were not equally available to all workers in all occupations, suggestive of a stratified experience of work meaninglessness. Our study contributes to understandings of how work is rendered meaningless and how individuals might respond.

Key Passage

The affordances of work for the experience of meaningfulness are bound up in the social and ontological significance of the tasks we perform and the viewpoints of those in our netdom towards them (Mei, 2006). The implication is that work in and of itself has little or no inherent value as meaningful or meaningless, but rather the evaluation of these depends in large part on the perspective of the individual (Kenny, Whittle, & Willmott, 2011), whose viewpoint is formed within the context of the multiple, contested perspectives of netdom participants. One question that arises from this notion is who, specifically, among potential netdom participants may be especially salient for individuals’ sense of their work as meaningful or meaningless? (p.3)


Meaningful Work, Work Experiences, Meaning, Sociology, Relational Sociology


Meaningful Work

Links to Reference



How to contribute.