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Dirty Work

The Social Construction of Taint

Edited by Shirley K. Drew, Melanie B. Mills, and Bob M. Gassaway

Publication Year: 2007

Dirty Work profiles a number of occupations that society deems tainted. The volume's vivid, ethnographic reports focus on the communication that helps workers manage the moral, social, and physical stains that derive from engaging in such occupations. The creative ways that those who perform such dirty work learn to communicate with each other, and with outsiders, regulate the negative aspects of the work itself and emphasize the positives so that workers can maintain a sense of self-value even while performing devalued occupations.

Published by: Baylor University Press


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Front Matter

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

It has been a pleasure working with the authors who contributed their fine work to this edited volume about dirty occupations. We appreciate the weeks or months they spent in the field to gather the data for their chapters about the people who work in interesting and important occupations. ...

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pp. 1-8

Many jobs, and even the ordinary lives of most people, have some level of dirty work in them. For most people, however, the dirty work in their lives is limited to changing diapers, carrying out the trash, or cleaning an occasional toilet. But dirty work is at the heart of a number of occupations and professions. ...

Part I

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1. Doing Justice

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pp. 11-32

Girard, Kansas, a town of about 2,800, is the county seat of Crawford County. The downtown is built around a traditional courthouse square with many turn-of-the-century buildings. A Vietnam-era Huey helicopter serves as the centerpiece of the square along with the Veterans of Foreign War memorial to the veterans of Girard. ...

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2. Dirty Work and Discipline behind Bars

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pp. 33-54

Over quesadillas at a local mexican restaurant, Nouveau Jail Correctional Officer Rick Neod described the most disgusting incident of his first six months working behind bars. ...

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3. Riding Fire Trucks & Ambulances with America’s Heroes

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pp. 55-76

The survey described above recently named firefighting the sexiest occupation, but when asked to comment on this finding in a media interview, one firefighter retorted, “It’s a very rewarding job, but it’s not sexy, not unless you think dealing with blood, germs and bodily functions is sexy." ...

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4. Without Trucks We’d Be Naked, Hungry & Homeless

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pp. 77-94

“If you’ve got it, a trucker brought it. This is the mantra of many people who drive trucks for a living and find themselves misunderstood, unappreciated, and maligned by the general public” (Mills, 2007, p. 127). Even though most of our consumer goods are brought to us by trucks and the prices would skyrocket ...

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5. Bitching about Secretarial ‘‘Dirty Work’’

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pp. 95-112

I begin with a question prompted by the title of this chapter: How is secretarial work “dirty”? After all, secretaries work in the comparative cleanliness of modern offices and rarely get their hands dirty. Nonetheless, there is a paradox involved in secretarial work and occupational identity: on one hand, we sing the praises of ...

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6. Bedpans, Blood, and Bile: Doing the Dirty Work in Nursing

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pp. 113-132

Nursing has always been an important health-care task, whether it is performed at home by and for loved ones or professionally as a function of a formal job. It can be understood in a number of ways, and we recognize there are many diverse jobs that qualify to be named “nursing.” This chapter seeks to broadly represent multiple nursing professions as a ...

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7. Crack Pipes and T Cells: Use of Taint Management by HIV/AIDS/Addiction Caregivers

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pp. 133-146

Residential transitional environments for people living with HIV or AIDS (HIV/AIDS) and addiction play an important role in building a strong community for those facing these challenges, but like many organizations, these communities face issues such as budgeting, workforce turnover, scheduling, and a myriad of other issues. ...

Part II

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8. Good Cops, Dirty Crimes

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pp. 149-168

Crime scene investigators, who are technically skilled specialists in the modern police department, face a seemingly endless series of encounters with the victims of violent injuries and death. Members of this specially trained work group commonly spend many hours on the scene of a crime, searching for and analyzing evidence that often is socially defined as foul, gross, or objectionable. ...

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9. Cops, Crimes, and Community Policing

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pp. 169-194

It is a truism that we are judged by the work that we do. For many of us, what we do is a central part of who we are and so it influences how we judge ourselves. Hughes (1958) argues that work is one of the most important parts of our social identity and thus of our lives. When society defines the work we do as dirty, then it is natural that as “dirty workers” we attempt to revise the public’s perceptions, ...

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10. The Death Doctors

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pp. 195-214

The dead human bodies arrive at the back door of the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator day and night, about 3,000 times a year, each one a puzzle with medical, social, and legal ramifications that need the careful analysis of a forensic pathologist. The Office of the Medical Investigator—better known to police officers as OMI— has jurisdiction by state law over any death that is “unattended,” ...

Part III

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11. Ethnography as Dirty Work

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pp. 217-232

Goodall (2000) defines the “new ethnography” as “creative narratives shaped out of a writer’s personal experiences within a culture and addressed to academic and public audiences” (p. 9). Ethnographers aim to “reveal the multiple truths apparent in others’ lives” (Emerson, Fretz, & Shaw, 1995, p.3). But there is more to the work than “revealing” social “truths.” ...

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12. Concluding Thoughts

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pp. 233-242

Over the years that we have been studying occupational cultures, we have often been asked why dirty work? There are a number of answers to that question. First, we are fascinated by the work itself and what it takes to do it. Part of this is plain curiosity and enjoying learning about jobs through vicarious experiences of what others do for a living (just being nosy!). ...


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pp. 243-258

About the Contributors

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pp. 259-262

Author Index

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pp. 263-266

Subject Index

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pp. 267-271

E-ISBN-13: 9781602580763
E-ISBN-10: 1602580766
Print-ISBN-13: 9781932792737
Print-ISBN-10: 1932792732

Page Count: 283
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1st

OCLC Number: 170923843
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dirty Work

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Work -- Psychological aspects
  • Quality of work life.
  • Occupational prestige.
  • Occupations -- Psychological aspects.
  • Work -- Social aspects.
  • Stigma (Social psychology).
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