It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it – with pride and hope.
Research on “dirty work” has focused on the fundamental challenge of finding positive meaning in work that is stigmatized because others see it as physically, socially or morally demeaning.
However, for many people engaged in dirty work, this challenge extends far beyond making their work meaningful because their lives are shaped by aspects including class, race, or gender, and work can be difficult—difficult, if not impossible, for any someone to avoid doing it.
A new study from the University of Notre Dame looks at meaning-making in the face of tough dirty work by examining “garbage collectors” in Mumbai, India. These lower caste individuals of Indian society live in slums and dig through rubbish in search of food and necessities. However, they manage to embrace hope and destiny and survive.
Intersectionality in Intractable Dirty Work: How Mumbai Ragpickers Make To Work and Lives is published in Academy of Management Journal From Dean Shepard, the Ray and Milan Siegfried Professor of Entrepreneurship at Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business.
“There are mountains of trash outside the cities, and they pick through it to find materials they can recycle for money,” says Shepard, who specializes in entrepreneurship in adversity. “So it actually has a very effective job, and it also allows these people to earn income.”
The team interviewed 46 rugbys and 15 of their clients. Among them were 10 sorters who bought garbage and sold it to other companies, and five middle managers who oversaw the recycling of recycled materials. Moreover, they interviewed 12 NGO workers who are involved in improving the well-being of those living in slums.
The team wanted to understand the mentality of garbage collectors and how they live and care for their families. They discovered two contrasting concepts that allowed them not only to survive, but also to be reasonably happy.
“The first thing is the feeling that they are powerless to change the situation,” Shepherd said. They might say, ‘It’s been like this forever. I can never get out. I do not blame myself for a situation that I do not have the power to change. But they also perceive some positivity. They know that because of their hard work, their families can survive.”
The study reports that “the critics of trash could not reframe their exceptionally oppressive situation as only positive. Instead, they carried both negative and positive meanings at once, grouping them in such a way as to keep them going.”
Shepherd was recognized in 2017 as the world’s leading researcher in entrepreneurial research. It is believed that entrepreneurship can often provide a chance for survival.
“In other studies, we ask slum entrepreneurs what they hope to achieve for themselves by setting up their business, and the answer is often ‘nothing.’ They do it for the next generation, so that their children can go to school and get an education. It takes A few generations to eradicate poverty.
Interestingly, says Shepard, the parents didn’t want to leave the slums. In the sense that they are comfortable. They have their families, social contacts, and businesses.
“Normally, when you think about neighborhoods with low socioeconomic status, businesses often fail. But in favelas, they do really well, mainly because there is a sense of community and strong word of mouth. There are so many reasons these businesses thrive. ”
“Our study shows that even people whose lives are objectively horrible can have meaning and be content. We can all learn ways to similarly look at our lives through different lenses.”
dean a. Academy of Management Journal (2022). DOI: 10.5465/amj.2019.0125
the quoteStudy Shows (2023, April 11): Mumbai’s ‘Ragpickers’ Use Entrepreneurship to Find Meaning, Retrieved April 11, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-ragpickers-mumbai-entrepreneurship.html
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