Alienation and Meaningful Work Subjective Strategies of Ascribing Meaning to Work

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:45 PM
Room: Booth 63
Oral Presentation
Friedericke HARDERING , Sociology with specialty in Sociology of Work, Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
This paper speaks to current debates about new expectations of meaningfulness at work and new forms of alienation pathologies (Rosa 2012). Current scholarship generally agrees that defining work as meaningful is an important strategy against the feeling of alienation. But still little is known about the mechanisms and processes that individuals themselves use to create meaningful relations to work (Rosso, Dekas & Wrzesniewski 2010). This paper investigates the mechanisms and processes of how employees ascribe meaning to their work. 

The sample consists of 21 employees who had changed occupations. I conducted in-depth narrative interviews about their work biography and their work orientations. Four distinct types of ascription of meaning emerged from the data: 1) reference to basic identification with work, 2) reference to meaningful aspects of work, 3) reference to the purpose of work for a greater good, 4) reference to values beyond work. The results show that current understandings of work or job orientations need to be extended and elaborated. Furthermore, the empirical findings invite more detailed questions on alienation, for example, in how far alienation can be interpreted as a gradual phenomenon.

Rosso, Brent D.; Dekas, Kathryn H. & Amy Wrzesniewski (2010): On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review. In: Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 91–127.

Rosa, Hartmut (2012): Arbeit und Entfremdung. In: Dörre, Klaus; Sauer, Dieter und Volker Wittke (Hrsg.): Kapitalismustheorie und Arbeit. Neue Ansätze soziologischer Kritik. Frankfurt am Main, S. 410-420.