Accepted Paper:

'Living on a razor blade': work and alienation in the narratives of therapeutic engagements  

Author:

Suvi Salmenniemi (University of Turku)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among practitioners of alternative therapeutic practices in Finland and engaging with debates in critical theory, this paper addresses experiences of alienation in work and the ways in which therapeutic practices are mobilized to confront them.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork among practitioners of alternative therapeutic practices in Finland and engaging with debates in critical theory, this paper addresses experiences of alienation in work. The deeply felt and embodied sense of alienation emerged as a central theme in the practitioners' narratives of working life, taking the form of burnout and depression. This alienation was articulated through two tropes: 'loss of the self' and 'refusal of subjectivity'. The practitioners sought to contest and alleviate alienation by assembling packages of self-care consisting of a range of spiritual, psychological and alternative health practices and knowledges as well as everyday lifestyle choices. These self-care assemblages constituted a form of everyday resistance, organized as individualized and small-scale acts of non-compliance and subversion in the everyday. They were mobilized to distance and disengage from the neoliberal ethic of work centred around constant performance, efficiency and the valorization of waged work. The paper suggests that therapeutic practices are neither inevitably nor necessarily allied with neoliberalism: they can be assembled both into projects reinforcing the regulation of subjectivity for capitalist purposes, and into life-fostering projects resistant to the dehumanizing effects of work. The paper concludes by suggesting that part of the appeal of therapeutic assemblages derives from their capacity to instil hope and a sense of agency in a situation in which the world appears to the subject as cold and indifferent.

Panel Medi04
Techniques of transformation, healing movements, and medicine worlds