The Work Cure: critical essays on work and wellness
This provocative collection of essays presents a powerful critique of contemporary discourse that portrays work – paid employment – as a moral imperative, essential for our health and well-being.
The contributors describe the mental health impact of modern-day workplaces, with their precarity and constant managerial scrutiny. They throw light on the emerging role of the psychologist and psychotherapist as agents of the state within the welfare system. And they question the deployment of mindfulness and other workplace ‘wellness’ initiatives in the place of more genuine and collective attempts to transform work.
The Work Cure is an invitation to imagine a different kind of future, where employment no longer represents the chief source of security and meaning, so integral to our well-being. It is also essential reading for anyone who has doubted whether positivity, self-improvement and ‘resilience’ can really be the answer to work’s problems.
Chapters in the book highlight the psycho-compulsion and the intrusion of the psychotherapist as agent of the state into the workplace and the welfare system; the economic and theoretical arguments behind the concept that work and happiness are indissolubly related, and the political and ideological purpose this fallacy serves; the mental health impact of modern-day workplaces, with their zero-hours contracts, constant precarity and continual managerial scrutiny of performance, and the power of disability activism to challenge the drive to make the ‘misfitting’ person fit the workplace, instead of the other way round.
Introduction: David Frayne – Putting therapy to work
Part 1: Mental management
1. Ivor Southwood – The black dog
2. Nic Murray – No crying in the breakroom
3. Jamie Woodcock – Understanding affective labour
4. Dave Berrie and Emily McDonagh – Reproducing anxiety
5. Steven Stanley – Challenging McMindfulness in the corporate university
Part 2: Dogmas of Work and Health
6. David Frayne – The employment dogma
7. Jay Watts – Not in my name, not in my profession’s name
8. Paul Atkinson – The IAPT assembly line
9. Psychologists for Social Change – The social and political origins of wellbeing
10. Arianna Introna and Mirella Casagrande – ‘We rebel because We misfit’
11. Recovery in the Bin – Unrecovery
‘The idea that work, including the enthusiastic search for work, is integral to mental health has become a key ideological tenet of post-industrial capitalism. By re-introducing critical and political perspectives to this agenda from those who have witnessed this new psychological government at first hand, The Work Cure demonstrates that resistance is possible, and in doing so offers hope of a more emancipatory psychology.’
William Davies, author of The Happiness Industr
‘Most of us have to sell our labour to survive. What's worse, we also have to listen as a growing army of (well-paid) professionals explain that work is essential to health and wellbeing. This much-needed collection of critical voices (provocative, political, surreal, despairing) provides a forensic interrogation of the imposition of work and exposes the creeping tyranny of wellbeing. With contributions from academics, psy-professionals and activists, this book unsettles tired platitudes about meaningful work and instead focuses on the real consequences of the organisation of labour: work’s colonisation of time and energy, to the extent that employers are not so much bosses as owners – a trend enabled by the marriage of work discipline and therapy culture analysed in chapters by David Frayne and Recovery in the Bin. Introna and Casagrande’s compelling account of the anti-productivist force of disability also describes the power and possibilities of resistance: ‘It's up to us to recognise our misfitting as a source of restored dignity and connect our struggles through the refusal of work.’ This essential book makes a powerful, interdisciplinary contribution to the politics, practice and potential of work refusal.’
Lynne Friedli, researcher and activist
‘Some books are useful, and some, like this one, which shows the misery that is caused by the use of psychological and welfare apparatuses instrumentally in the service of an austerity agenda, are indispensable. The contributors together provide a vital resource for understanding how neoliberalism gets inside all of us, and, crucially, into the lives of those who should be offered solidarity, rather than subjected to coercion.,
Ian Parker, Emeritus Professor of Management, University of Leicester, UK