‘Embodying' Dirty Work: A Review of the Literature

Ruth Simpson, Alexander Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article reviews the growing literature on dirty work i.e. work that is seen as disgusting or degrading and argues for a more ‘embodied' understanding of such work. It points to a tendency in the literature to focus on the nature of the task or role and on social and moral dimensions of the work at the expense of its material and embodied aspects. The latter are discussed through three, interrelated themes: ‘embodied suitability' whereby forms of dirty work are seen as suitable for some ‘working bodies' and not for others; ‘staining' which is presented as both a material and a symbolic process; and the role of work practices in both supporting and undermining ideological constructions around the work. The article concludes by arguing for a more comprehensive approach which includes both the material and the symbolic into accounts of such work.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12581
JournalSociology Compass
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2018

Bibliographical note

This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: ‘Embodying' Dirty Work: A Review of the Literature, which has been published in final form at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/soc4.12581. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.


  • dirty work
  • embodiment
  • staining
  • practice


Dive into the research topics of '‘Embodying' Dirty Work: A Review of the Literature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this