For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Meanings and Dirty Work: A Study of Refuse Collectors and Street Cleaners"

by Simpson, Ruth; Slutskaya, Natasha; Hughes, Jason (2019)


This chapter examines the provocative nature of “dirty” or “tainted work” as a source of meaningful work. It considers different sources of meaningful work, including work characterized by intersubjective, self-actualized, or stigmatized dimensions. To explore this further, it draws on Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus (predispositions), hexus (character), and doxa (beliefs) to propose a scheme of meaning-making in which tainted work serves as a source of meaningfulness. However, where many approaches often focus on the career choices people make, here the wider contextual factors are also considered of two “dirty” jobs in the UK—street sweeping and refuse collecting. The chapter examines the traditional meaning-systems in these roles that echo agential choices but also structural constraints within a neoliberal system that places lower symbolic value on this work and those who do it.


Meaningful Work, Dirty Work, Bourdieu, Agency, Habitus, Hexus, Doxa


Dirty Work

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