The subversive craft worker: Challenging ‘disutility’ theories of management control

Dale Tweedie*, Sasha Holley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


Although sociologists and psychologists have documented various motivations for working, the concept of work as essentially disutility or undesirable retains broad resonance among influential economists and social theorists. These concepts imply that workers will tend to avoid or ‘shirk’ their work task unless subjected to management controls. Yet emerging counter-narratives have sought to retrieve and develop alternative concepts of work as craft, where workers are motivated to work well or be recognized for doing so. On these approaches, management controls can decrease the quality of the final outputs. This article uses a case study of cleaners in Australia to challenge influential representations of workers as prone to ‘shirking’ and the interpretation of management control to which these perspectives lead. The article argues that craft concepts of work derived from Richard Sennett and contemporary recognition theory provide alternative narratives of how workers can derive satisfaction from working well even in ‘menial’ tasks, and how craft motivations can drive workers to subvert management controls to uphold rather than diminish service quality. In this way, craft theories reveal limitations of overly instrumental concepts of work, and also help conceptualize how workers’ attachment to their tasks can drive resistance to management control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1877-1900
Number of pages24
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016


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