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The labour of aesthetics and the aesthetics of organisation

Witz, Anne M. and Warhurst, Chris and Nickson, Dennis P. (2003) The labour of aesthetics and the aesthetics of organisation. Organization, 10 (1). pp. 33-54. ISSN 1350-5084

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This article develops the conceptualization and analysis of aesthetic labour in two parts. The first part focuses on conceptualizing aesthetic labour. We critically revisit the emotional labour literature, arguing that the analysis of interactive service work is impeded by the way in which its corporeal aspects are retired and that, by shifting the focus from emotional to aesthetic labour, we are able to recuperate the embodied character of service work. We then explore the insights provided by the sociological perspectives on the body contained in the works of Goffman and Bourdieu in order to conceptualize aesthetic labour as embodied labour. In the second part, we develop our analysis of aesthetic labour within the context of a discussion of the aesthetics of organization. We discern three ways in which aesthetics is recognized to imbue organization: aesthetics of organization, aesthetics in organization and aesthetics as organization. We contend that employees are increasingly seen not simply as 'software' but as 'hardware', in the sense that they too can be corporately moulded to portray the organizational aesthetic. We ground this analysis in a case study from research conducted by the authors.