The Elevation of Work: Pastoral Power and the New Age Work Ethic

Bell, Emma and Taylor, Scott (2003). The Elevation of Work: Pastoral Power and the New Age Work Ethic. Organization, 10(2) pp. 329–349.



This paper seeks to establish the contours of the popular workplace spirituality discourse through analysis of academic and practitioner texts and accounts of organizational practice. We identify several themes, drawing attention to potential contradictions in the notions of meaning, measurement and community, which the discourse seeks to promote. In seeking to understand the means whereby it is embodied as a source of administrative power we draw on a range of historical and contemporary organizational examples, illustrating how pastoral power is reinforced through the construction of disciplinary technologies. We argue that the workplace spirituality discourse shares Weber’s acceptance of the structural conditions of capitalism and seeks to resolve the dilemmas this creates for the individual through developing an inner sense of meaning and virtue. In this respect, it represents a revival of the Protestant ethic in a way that involves re visioning the ambivalent relationship between self and organization. We conclude that the ‘social ethic’ has given way to a New Age work ethic, which relies on the management of individual metaphysics as a source of organizational, as well as personal, transformation.

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