Contextualizing dirty work: The neglected role of cultural, historical, and demographic context

Blake Ashforth, Glen E. Kreiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Although perceptions of physically, socially, and morally stigmatized occupations - 'dirty work' - are socially constructed, very little attention has been paid to how the context shapes those constructions. We explore the impact of historical trends (when), macro and micro cultures (where), and demographic characteristics (who) on the social construction of dirty work. Historically, the rise of hygiene, along with economic and technological development, resulted in greater societal distancing from dirty work, while the rise of liberalism has resulted in greater social acceptance of some morally stigmatized occupations. Culturally, masculinity tends to be preferred over femininity as an ideological discourse for dirty work, unless the occupation is female-dominated; members of collectivist cultures are generally better able than members of individualist cultures to combat the collective-level threat that stigma inherently represents; and members of high power-distance cultures tend to view dirty work more negatively than members of low power-distance cultures. Demographically, marginalized work tends to devolve to marginalized socioeconomic, gender, and racioethnic categories, creating a pernicious and entrapping recursive loop between 'dirty work' and being labeled as 'dirty people.'

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)423-440
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Management and Organization
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 14 2014


  • Cultural values
  • Demographics
  • Dirty work
  • History
  • Social construction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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