Time, space and touch at work: body work and labour process (re)organisation

Sociol Health Illn. 2011 Feb;33(2):189-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2010.01306.x.


With 'efficiency savings' the watchword for health and social care services, reorganisation and labour rationalisation are the order of the day. This article examines the difficulties involved in (re)organising work which takes bodies as its object, or material of production. It shows that working on bodies ('body work') systematically delimits possibilities for labour process rationalisation which, in turn, constrains reorganisation of the health and social care sector. It does this in three main ways. First: rigidity in the ratio of workers to bodies-worked-upon limits the potential to increase capital-labour ratios or cut labour. Secondly: the requirement for co-presence and temporal unpredictability in demand for body work diminish the spatial and temporal malleability of the labour process. Thirdly: the nature of bodies as a material of production--complex, unitary and responsive--makes it difficult to standardise, reorganise or rationalise work. A wide-ranging analysis of body work in health and social care, as well as other sectors, fleshes out these three constraints and shows that attempts to overcome them and reorganise the sector in pursuit of cost savings or 'efficiency', generate problems for workers and the patients, whose bodies they work upon.

MeSH terms

  • Health Services*
  • Humans
  • Personal Space*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Social Environment*
  • Social Welfare
  • Time*
  • Touch*
  • Work / psychology*