Intersectionality in Intractable Dirty Work: How Mumbai Ragpickers Make Meaning of Their Work and Lives

Dean Shepherd, Sally Maitlis, Vinit Parida, Joakim Wincent, Thomas B. Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Recent dirty work research has begun to explore intersectionality, attending to how meaning is made at the intersection of multiple sources of taint. This research has shown that individuals often construct both positive and negative meanings, which can be challenging to manage because the meanings people construct require a certain coherence to provide a foundation for action. This challenge is intensified when dirty work is intractable—when it is difficult, if not impossible, for a person to avoid doing this work. Our study of meaning making in the face of intractable dirty work examines ragpickers in Mumbai, India, who handle and dispose of garbage, and are further tainted by belonging to the lowest caste in Indian society, and living in slums. These ragpickers constructed both an overarching sense of helplessness rooted in the intractability of their situation, and a set of positive meanings—survival, destiny, and hope—rooted in specific facets of their lives and enacted through distinct temporal frames. By holding and combining these disparate meanings, they achieved “functional ambivalence”—the simultaneous experience of opposing orientations toward their work and lives that facilitated both acceptance and a sense of agency, and enabled them to carry on in their lives.
Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalAcademy of Management Journal
Publication statusPublished - 02.08.2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


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