For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Identity and Meaningful/Meaningless Work"

by Harding, Nancy H (2019)


This chapter draws on labor process theory to argue that the discourse of meaningfulness in the context of neoliberal capitalism may represent a means for organizations to control and manipulate individual identities. A “politics of meaningful work” is proposed that demonstrates how individuals move between abject alienation on the one hand and the proud identity associated with meaningful work on the other. Drawing on Marx’s notions of the alienated self, the chapter argues that meaningless work is alienated work since it is associated with the production of a commoditized self. Both meaningful and meaningless work can coexist through the notion of emplacements. Where the individual is subject to the managerial gaze and work is routinized and controlled, alienation is the outcome. In other emplacements, meaningfulness and a non-alienated self arise outside formal organizational constraints. A sense of meaningfulness may arise even in the face of neoliberalist attempts to quash it.


Meaningful Work, Identity, Marx, Alienation, Emplacement, Self, Meaningless Work


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