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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le geste de travail est un geste identitaire

by Marie Pezé (invited author, for this week)

The Gesture at Work is a Gesture of Identity

Translated Sunday 11 October 2009, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Derek Hanson

Holding a Doctor’s degree in Psychology,
Marie Pezé is chief of consultation for the group "Suffering and work" [1] at the CASH [2], in Nanterre. As psychoanalyst, psycho-somatrist and judicial expert, she has, in particular, published the book le Deuxième Corps [3], La Dispute, 2002., and Ils ne mouraient pas tous, mais tous étaient frappés [4], Pearson, 2008.

I want to write again with force about the centrality of work in the
construction of identity, in the achievement of the self, in the maintenance
of psychic and even social equilibrium. Because, have no illusion about this, we don’t hold onto our identity all alone. This requires the view of another person, both in the domain of love, and in the domain of society.

In exchange for the contribution we make to the organization of work, we
expect recognition. Not just a salary, but also some measure of return in the form of identity. The recognition of the quality of our work is the response we need to our subjective expectations. So the weariness and fatigue, the difficulties, the doubts vanish before the contribution to the collective endeavor, and through the place that we have been able to find
amidst our co-workers.
Work provides, for instinctual turmoil, a socially acceptable and useful release valve. We see the wreckage wrought by violence when the social portal is barred by chronic unemployment.

The gestures of the trade at a workplace are not simply sequences of muscular efforts, efficient and operational. They are anchored in our youth as copies of models loved and admired. In the traditions of a trade, transmitted through apprenticeship, building close links between the activities of the body and the belonging to a working collectivity. Finally, these gestures translate our belonging to a gender, to a sex. Do I need to recall that a woman does not occupy the same trades in the sexual division of work? It is left for women to take care of filth, of suffering, of death, of sickness, of aged persons, and of children.

Our corporal engagement in work speaks of our social identity, our gender identity, our personal identity.
Touch our working gestures, you touch our identity. If production-line workers, or social aid care workers are caught up in a rigid organization of their workplace, where they can invest none of their personal resources and energies, there will be suffering. What negotiation is possible with their personal identity when the gestures of work are reduced to a thankless, repetitive, manual movement. Thinking becomes useless. Mental silence is better matched to monotonous work, and is maintained by a repression of the self, gesture by gesture, day after day.
The first symptom: fatigue, one is worn down by the gesture emptied of meaning, which one must nevertheless accomplish, while repressing all spontaneous activity, in order to stick to the script scrolling out on the tele-prompter, no latitude being authorized.
When the gesture no longer means anything, the only option is to hold on.

[1Souffrance et travail

[2Centre d’acceuil et de soins hospitaliers de Nanterre, Center for Reception and Hospital Care, Nanterre, see their web site, and follow the links Acceuil, Hôpital Max Fouresier, Notre offre de soins, Souffrance et travail

[3The Second Body

[4Not all of them died, but they were all stricken

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