The urge to work: Normative ordering in the narratives of people on long-term sick leave


Publication date


Series/Report no

Health Sociology Review;Volume 28, 2019 - Issue 2


Taylor & Francis

Document type


This study analyses the narratives of people on long-term sick leave due to low back pain. We draw upon the theory of justification – as developed by the French sociologists Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot – to investigate how the informants’ narratives evoke and rely upon three ‘orders of worth’. These are the industrial order concerning being a productive citizen, the domestic order of home and family, and the civic order positioning the citizen in the regulations of the welfare state. In-depth interview interpretations map a strongly normative urge to work. The interviews also demonstrate how this urge in interwoven with social interactions in specific arenas: a troubled home life when not working, ways of keeping in touch with work, and complex negotiations of the possibility of non-work. The different orders of worth do more than point towards their ‘own’ arena: Norms and values of the domestic order, in particular, point toward the need for return to work rather than towards life at home (non-work). We conclude that the narratives deal more with the trouble of sick leave than with the enjoyment of work. Hence, the urge to work is just as much a turn away from non-work.




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