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Work, labour, spiritual homelessness and the construction of meaning

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2020
Number of pages270
Awarding Institution
Award date16/06/2018
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis explores the relational dynamic that exists between metaphysical belief and the economic cosmos, and how this relationship manifests in technically advanced societies that have undergone processes of secularisation through activity referred to as “work”. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, this thesis critically examines claims made by Organisational literature that the incorporation of “religious” and “spiritual” belief in the workplace is an inherent good for the organisation and their employees’ through contemporary sociological analysis of religion and the works of Weber (1905), Nietzsche (1888, 1889), Arendt (1958) and Berger (1964, 1973). Highlighting the condition of homelessness that results when previous taken-for-granted collective frameworks of belief are no longer invested with faith through which to conceive existence as meaningful or purposeful, such theoretical analysis underpins discussion of the “problem of work” identified by Berger to manifest in contexts that have undergone technical advancement and processes of secularisation. Providing historical contextualisation of the subsequent rise of soft capitalist Human Resource Management strategies, rhetoric and practices that seek to “bring life back to work” through the incorporation on (non)conceptual values, aspirations and ideals, this thesis considers what significance the nature and character of work poses in the contemporary Western UK context that is predominantly characterised by a condition of homelessness.
Adopting a nominalist, social constructivist lens, through qualitative in-depth interviews that explore the theoretical arguments raised in Chapters One, Two and Three, this thesis draws on Arendt’s distinction between activities of work, works of art and activities of labour to outlines how organisationally designed roles are inherently damaging to the human condition, and particularly for those who are spiritually homeless who construct a “home” for their being within their place of employment because such activities constitute labour as opposed to work. It argues that contemporary organisations that mis-appropriate rhetoric, practices and techniques originating from metaphysical traditions and secondary institutions capitalise on the need of the human condition to construct meaning relative to material existence by making activities of labour appear to function as activities of work. Encouraging the alignment of being to organisational aims and objectives by obscuring the alienated condition of being that results when activities of labour are undertaken as opposed to activities of work and works of art by promising what most want to hear and believe, this thesis argues that soft capitalist approaches encourage human resources to break their spirit in pursuit of (non)conceptual ideals by requiring them to put their beliefs, values and desires secondary to organisational demands. Simply, the more human resources invest in soft capitalist “homes” and strive “to become” through the performance of labour, the more they cease to recognise what it is “to be” human. This thesis thus concludes that desires to attain neoliberal (non)conceptual ideals such as “happiness”, material and personal “betterment” and “self-actualisation” in material reality is in fact passive self-annihilation that results from (non)conceptual idolatry and slavery, and faith placed in the economic cosmos in order to cope with the loss of metaphysical homes.

Keywords: the death of God, the problem of work, work, labour, Arendt, work ethics, homelessness, Berger, material being, soft capitalism, self-actualisation, self-annihilation

Bibliographic note

Please note the references to Heelas' 1991 and 1992 works in the reference section do not have page numbers for the chapters. This is due to Covid-19 restrictions preventing access to the texts to retrospectively add this information.