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We will force you to be well: Positive liberty, power and the health and wellbeing of construction workers

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conference contribution
posted on 2023-07-26, 13:50 authored by Fred Sherratt
The UK construction industry has long championed changes and developments in work practices that reduce and avoid negative impacts on worker health and wellbeing. More recently however, approaches have shifted to consider the worker beyond the workplace, and now seek to improve health and wellbeing in worker ‘associated lifestyles’, as crystallised in the UK Department of Health’s Responsibility Deal Construction Pledge. Yet such an approach is a fundamental challenge to construction workers’ liberty, and questions the status of the individual and their autonomy. It can also be seen as an exercise in paternalistic or pastoral power, and consequently a constraint of personal freedoms. Whether this next step in corporate social responsibility is a purely philanthropic quest, seeking to improve individuals own health and wellbeing, or a step towards the creation of a more perfect workforce, one that does not become ill or operate at any less than maximum performance, such an approach brings benefits not only to the workforce but also to those who benefit from what they produce. As companies become more economically powerful than countries, such governmentalisation of corporate powers must be considered. The exercise of this power should be questioned, and the agendas, issues, conflicts and interests behind such approaches fully illuminated and explored. Grounded in a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of the press release of the UK Pledge, a Foucaultian exploration of the power relations in play within this context has been developed. Steven Lukes’ three dimensions of power are considered alongside positive liberty, revealing potential concerns for workers health and wellbeing in terms of their fundamental autonomy, and an increasingly controlled relationship between productive activities and power relations.


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Proceedings 30th Annual ARCOM Conference

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30th Annual ARCOM Conference


Portsmouth, UK

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