Dirty Work: Physical, Social and Moral Taint

Natalia Slutskaya, Annilee M. Game

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Dirty work has been characterized as work that carries a physical, social or moral taint. This definition suggests that what makes a job “dirty” is socially and historically contingent, with processes of social stigmatization or normalization being instrumental in how the work is experienced by workers and perceived by the public. This chapter explores how changes in historical, economic and social conditions affect the material and symbolic status of tainted jobs and what consequences these changes might have for conceptualizing “dirty work,” also providing an overview of the history of research on “dirty work.” The concept of dirty work was adopted from the original studies of Hughes. In the 1990s, scholars such as Ashforth and Kreiner revisited the work of Hughes to explore how sources of “taint” (social, moral, physical) could influence the cognitive, affective and behavioral coping strategies employed by workers, thus fine-tuning the conceptualizations of occupational stigma and dirty work. The chapter illustrates how the concept of dirty work is not only central to a better understanding of a specific type of labor, but it unlocks grounds for exploring interdependencies and relations between shifts in the structure of society and changes in the structure of behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationShifting Categories of Work
Subtitle of host publicationUnsettling the Ways We Think About Jobs Labor, and Activities
EditorsLisa Herzog, Bénédicte Zimmermann
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781003341321
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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