Chapter 11

The Organisational Contours of ‘Body Work’

Carol Wolkowitz

University of Warwick

This chapter addresses the growing literature on what some sociologists conceptualise as ‘body work’, i.e. the work that human beings do on their own and others’ bodies. It aims to bring a tactile dimension to our understanding of work and organisation, and to highlight the embodied materiality of workplace interactions. Considering various forms of body work tells us not only about some of the ways in which organisations influence how much time, energy and money we spend on our bodies, but also the extent to which organising needs bodies to give it life.

The chapter begins by situating ‘body work’ within the wider framework of recent research seeking to make the embodiment of workplace activity and organisational roles more visible. It then looks at the body work that people do on their own bodies – for instance, styling our hair, tying our shoes, or managing our facial expression – to consider how far apparently personal activities intersect with the world of paid employment. The article then examines the intimate work on another person that forms an important component of the job for many people. The work of doctors, beauticians, spa workers and many others focuses directly on the bodies of other people and routinely involves touching other people’s bodies. Using the example of health and social care, the section shows that organisations are not only concerned with managing the bodies ...

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