Sinners and Saints: Morally Stigmatized Work

  • Gina Grandy
  • Sharon Mavin
Part of the Palgrave Explorations in Workplace Stigma book series (PAEWS)


Morally dirty work refers to organization, occupation or employment tasks regarded as sinful, dubious, deceptive, intrusive or confrontational. For those who perform such work (dirty workers), moral taint serves as a stain on the individual’s integrity, a defect of character that may stick even after the individual stops performing the work. Often such work can be simultaneously viewed in positive and negative terms, thus performed by individuals who, we suggest, can paradoxically be considered both saints and sinners. In this chapter, we explain what we understand by moral taint and the implications at the individual, group and organization levels. We discuss what we provocatively refer to as the most obvious sinners (e.g., casino workers, HIV/AIDS/addiction caregivers, genetic termination nurses, border patrol agents), the sometimes sinners (e.g., correctional officers, truckers, private detectives), and new and surprising sinners (e.g., bankers, nursing as pornography, secretaries). We conclude with areas for future research.


  1. Ashforth, B., & Kreiner, G. (1999). How can you do it? Dirty work and the challenge of constructing a positive identity. Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 413–434.Google Scholar
  2. Ashforth, B., & Kreiner, G. (2014a). Contextualizing dirty work: The neglected role of cultural, historical and demographic context. Journal of Management & Organization, 20(4), 423–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ashforth, B., & Kreiner, G. (2014b). Dirty work and dirtier work: Differences in countering physical, social and moral taint. Management and Organization Review, 10(1), 81–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ashforth, B. E., Kreiner, G. E., Clark, M. A., & Fugate, M. (2007). Normalizing dirty work: Managerial tactics for countering occupational taint. Academy of Management Journal, 50(1), 149–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bergman, M., & Chalkley, K. (2007). “Ex” marks a spot: The stickiness of dirty work and other removed stigmas. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12(3), 251–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bolton, S. (2005). Women’s work, dirty work: The gynaecology nurse as ‘other’. Gender, Work and Organization, 12(2), 169–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cassell, C., & Bishop, V. (2014). Metaphors and sensemaking: Understanding the taint associated with dirty work. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, 9(3), 254–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chiappetta-Swanson, C. (2005). Dignity and dirty work: Nurses’ experiences in managing genetic termination for fetal anomaly. Qualitative Sociology, 28(1), 93–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cusack, M., Jack, G., & Kavanagh, D. (2003). Dancing with discrimination: Managing stigma and identity. Culture and Organization, 9(4), 295–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dick, P. (2005). Dirty work designations: How police officers account for their use of coercive force. Human Relations, 58(1), 1363–1390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and danger: An analysis of concepts of pollution and taboos. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fraher, A. (2014, August). Prostitute, gambler, advocate, addict: Airline piloting as ‘invisibilized dirty work’. Academy of Management Annual Conference AOM Submission #10027, Philadelphia, PA.Google Scholar
  13. Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  14. Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Inc.Google Scholar
  15. Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Grandy, G. (2008). Managing spoiled identities: Dirty workers’ struggles for a favourable sense of self. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, 3(3), 176–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grandy, G., & Mavin, S. (2012). Occupational image, organizational image and identity in dirty work: Intersections of organizational efforts and media accounts. Organization, 19(6), 765–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grandy, G., & Mavin, S. (2014). Emotion management as struggle in dirty work: The experiences of exotic dancers. International Journal of Work, Organisation and Emotion, 6(2), 131–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grandy, G., Mavin, S., & Simpson, R. (2014). Guest Editor Introduction. Doing dirty research using qualitative methodologies: Lessons from stigmatized occupations. Qualitative Research in Management: An International Journal, 9(3), 174–182.Google Scholar
  20. Hughes, E. C. (1958). Men and their work. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  21. Jensen, T., & Sandström, J. (2015). Normal deviants and Erving Goffman: Extending the literature on organizational stigma. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 5(4), 125–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jones, E., Frina, A., Hastorf, A., Markus, H., Miller, D., & Scott, R. (1984). Social stigma: The psychology of marked relationships. New York, NY: Freeman and Company.Google Scholar
  23. Kreiner, G., Ashforth, B., & Sluss, D. (2006). Identity dynamics in occupational dirty work: Integrating social identity and system justification perspectives. Organization Science, 17(5), 619–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lai, Y., Chan, K., & Lam, L. (2013). Defining who you are not: The roles of moral dirtiness and occupational and organizational disidentification in affecting casino employee turnover intention. Journal of Business Research, 66(9), 1659–1666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mavin, S., & Grandy, G. (2013). Doing gender well and differently in dirty work. Gender, Work & Organization, 20(3), 232–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. McMurray, R., & Ward, J. (2014). Why would you want to do that? Defining emotional dirty work. Human Relations, 67(9), 1123–1143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mills, M. (2007a). Miles of trials: The life and livelihood of the long haul trucker. In E. DeGenaro (Ed.), Who says? Working class rhetorics, class consciousness, and community (pp. 127–143). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  28. Mills, M. (2007b). Without trucks, we’d be naked, hungry and homeless. In M. Mills, S. Drew, & B. Gassaway (Eds.), Dirty work: The social construction of taint (pp. 77–94). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Mills, M., & Schejbal, A. (2007). Bedpans, blood, and bile: Doing the dirty work in nursing. In M. Mills, S. Drew, & B. Gassaway (Eds.), Dirty work: The social construction of taint (pp. 113–132). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Oshana, M. (2006). Moral taint. Metaphilosophy, 37(3–4), 353–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Poole Martinez, S. (2007). Crack pipes and T cells: Use of taint management by HIV/AIDS/addiction caregivers. In M. Mills, S. Drew, & B. Gassaway (Eds.), Dirty work: The social construction of taint (pp. 133–145). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Rivera, K. D. (2010). Emotional labor, dirty work, and the face of immigration at the U.S. border patrol. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University, Tempe.Google Scholar
  33. Rivera, K. D. (2014). Emotional taint: Making sense of emotional dirty work at the U.S. Border Patrol. Management Communication Quarterly, 29(2), 198–228. doi: 10.1177/0893318914554090. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rivera, K. D., & Tracy, S. J. (2014). Embodying emotional dirty work: A messy text of patrolling the border. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, 9(3), 201–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sanders, T. (2005). ‘It’s just acting’: Sex workers’ strategies for capitalizing on sexuality. Gender, Work and Organization, 12(4), 319–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Sayer, A. (2007). Dignity at work: broadening the agenda.Organization, 14(4), 565–581.Google Scholar
  37. Shantz, A., & Booth, J. (2014). Service employees and self-verification: The roles of occupational stigma consciousness and core self-evaluations. Human Relations, 67(12), 1439–1465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Shulman, D. (2000). Professionals’ accounts for work-related deceptions. Symbolic Interaction, 23(3), 259–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Simpson, R., Slutskaya, N., & Hughes, J. (2011). Emotional dimensions of dirty work: Men’s encounter with taint in the butcher trade. International Journal of Work, Organisation and Emotion, 4(2), 195–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Slutskaya, N., Simpson, R., Hughes, J., Simpson, A., & Uygur, S. (2016). Masculinity and class in the context of dirty work. Gender, Work and Organization, 23(2), 165–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Soni-Sinha, U., & Yates, C. (2013). Dirty work?’ Gender, race and the union in industrial cleaning. Gender, Work and Organization, 20(6), 737–751.Google Scholar
  42. Sotirin, P. (2007). Bitching about secretarial “dirty work”. In M. Mills, S. Drew, & B. Gassaway (Eds.), Dirty work: The social construction of taint (pp. 95–112). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Stanley, L., MacKenzie-Davey, K., & Symon, G. (2014). Exploring media construction of investment banking as dirty work. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, 9(3), 270–287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Toyoki, S., & Brown, A. (2014). Stigma, identity and power: Managing stigmatized identities through discourses. Human Relations, 67(6), 715–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tracy, S., & Scott, C. (2007). Dirty work and discipline behind bars. In M. Mills, S. Drew, & B. Gassaway (Eds.), Dirty work: The social construction of taint (pp. 33–54). Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Tracy, S. J., & Scott, C. (2006). Sexuality, masculinity, and taint management among firefighters and correctional officers: Getting down and dirty with “America’s heroes” and the “scum of law enforcement”. Management Communication Quarterly, 20, 6–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tyler, M. (2011). Tainted love: From dirty work to abject labour in Soho’s sex shops. Human Relations, 64(11), 1477–1500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vaast, E., & Levina, N. (2015). Speaking as one, but not speaking up: Dealing with a new moral taint in an occupational online community. Information and Organization, 25(2), 73–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Webster, G., & Baylis, F. (2000). Moral residue. In S. Rubin & L. Zoloth (Eds.), Margin of error: The ethics of mistakes in the practice of medicine (pp. 217–230). Hagerstown, MD: University Publishing Group.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gina Grandy
    • 1
  • Sharon Mavin
    • 2
  1. 1.University of ReginaReginaCanada
  2. 2.University of RoehamptonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations