The Work Cure

Edited by David Frayne, and soon to be published by PCCS, The Work Cure brings together activists, critical psychologists and critics of work, in order to question today’s fusion of work and therapy.

DWP alterations
Questioning the Department for Work and Pensions’ ‘science’

Outline

We live in a jobs-based society.  Not only is employment the main mechanism for distributing income, but it is also culturally central.  Jobs are supposed to provide people with a sense of identity and purpose, and the Establishment emphasise participation in employment as an ethical obligation, tied to ideas of virtue and citizenship.

At the same time, growing numbers of activists and critical scholars suggest that the institution of work is in a state of crisis.  Meaningless jobs proliferate, precarity and working poverty are on the rise, and the lives and efforts of people outside the economic sphere remain under-valued.  To quote the activist, Roy Bard, “working isn’t working”, and there is a pressing need to question employment as a central organising institution of society.

The authors of this book collectively explore one of the major obstacles standing in the way of this debate: the current tendency to reframe the problems with work as psychological rather than political problems.

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This tendency is evident in numerous recent phenomena.  We see it in the rise of what Friedli and Stearn call ‘psycho-compulsion’, in which mandatory state interventions are used to coerce benefit claimants to enter the labour market and think more positively about work.  We see it in the current fusion of CBT and employment coaching in state-funded IAPT therapy.  And we also see it in the seemingly unstoppable rise of corporate wellness initiatives: numerous seminars on stress-busting, positive thinking, and mindfulness, designed to appease unhappy workers.

Spurred on by the Conservative government’s interest in behavioural economics (or the ‘power of the Nudge‘), these psychological interventions have served to reposition the structural / political problems with work as matters to be solved via individual self-management (or more work).  This is a problem for those of us currently trying to rethink the future of work in more adventurous, political and collective terms, but more pointedly, these interventions represent pressing ethical concerns in the here and now.

Psycho-compulsion and IAPT therapy have served as key tools in a punishing austerity agenda, which has seen mentally distressed and disabled people forced into employment, against their will.  This policy trend has been nothing less than life-threatening.  Meanwhile, by abstaining from any discussion of the structural causes of distress, corporate wellness initiatives have left employees blaming themselves for today’s epidemic of stress and burnout.

Within this troubling context, the authors of this book each draw on their own experiences, activism, and academic interests, in order to challenge the conventional wisdom that ‘work is good for you’.  Drawing on the spirit of resistance that has already taken root, our book will condemn the role of today’s therapeutic cultures in propping up the work ethic.

Questions

  • In what ways have therapeutic cultures been co-opted to enforce work and prop up the work ethic?
  • Why and how should we challenge the claim that humans are psychologically ‘hard-wired’ to work?
  • What socio-political causes of distress are being ignored when the problems with work are re-framed as psychological issues?
  • How are activists resisting today’s fusion of work and therapy?
  • Can we imagine a more radical ‘intervention’, in the form of deeper transformations of work, and our work-based society?

 

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