Sacrifice and distinction in dirty work: men’s construction of meaning in the butcher trade

Through a study of the butcher trade, this article explores the meanings that men give to ‘dirty work’, that is jobs or roles that are seen as distasteful or ‘undesirable’. Based on qualitative data, we identify three themes from butchers’ accounts that relate to work-based meanings: sacrifice through physicality of work; loss and nostalgia in the face of industrial change; and distinction from membership of a shared trade. Drawing on Bourdieu, we argue that sacrifice and distinction help us understand some of the meanings men attach to dirty, manual work – forming part of a working-class ‘habitus’. Further, these assessments can be both ‘reproductive’ and ‘productive’ as butchers reinforce historically grounded evaluations of work and mobilize new meanings in response to changes in the trade.

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