Beyond the symbolic: a relational approach to dirty work through a study of refuse collectors and street cleaners

Jason Hughes, Ruth Simpson, Natasha Slutskaya, Alex Simpson, Kahryn Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Drawing on a relational approach and based on an ethnographic study of street cleaners and refuse collectors, we redress a tendency towards an overemphasis on the discursive by exploring the co-constitution of the material and symbolic dynamics of dirt. We show how esteem-enhancing strategies that draw on the symbolic can be both supported and undermined by the physicality of dirt, and how relations of power are rooted in subordinating material conditions. Through employing Hardy and Thomas’s taxonomy of objects, practice, bodies and space, we develop a fuller understanding of how the symbolic and material are fundamentally entwined within dirty work, and suggest that a neglect of the latter might foster a false optimism regarding worker experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-122
Number of pages17
JournalWork, Employment & Society
Volume31
Issue number1
Early online date7 Sep 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • dirty work
  • taint
  • dirt
  • relational ontology

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