Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Research: Occupational health discourse in Finnish media

The journal Sociology of Heath & Illness just published an article entitled “Heath risks, social relations and class: An analysis of occupational health discourse in Finnish newspaper and women’s magazine articles, 1961-2008.”

The article examines how class expectations of work have changed over time and how this interacts with how we view workplace risk. In Finland (as in Canada), workplace safety issues became problematized in the 1970s.

At about this same time, though, views of work shifted from being conflict-oriented towards being harmonious (basically middle class views of work displaced blue-collar ones). Plus, you know, neoliberal market pressure and all that.

The authors' found the resulting collision of values (danger-driven conflict versus harmonious working arrangements) plays out in the coverage of psychosocial health risks. Specifically, around 1980, there is a significant change in the discourse in newspaper and magazine coverage.

There is more extensive coverage of psychosocial risks and the risks are presented not as the natural outcome of hierarchical organizations, but as some sort of separate issue. Herein we see the shift in how organizations are viewed from naturally (if perhaps unintentionally) harmful to harmless (with conflict being the result of inaction or error by workers and/or supervisors).

In this new formulation, the prescription for reducing psychosocial hazards rests with workers adjusting themselves to the needs and goals of the organization, rather than seeking to alter the organization (e.g., via unionization or other forms of collective or individual resistance). Basically, workers’ reactions to organizations became the problem, rather than the effect organizations had on workers’ health.

Overall, this article presets an interesting way to track how the discourse about the nature, cause and solution of workplace issues has changed over time and in ways that favour employers.

-- Bob Barnetson

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