As the great American work-benefit experiment erodes, companies are increasingly asking people to take responsibility for managing their own health. There's no question work and health are intertwined. But what effect does an intensely productive, globally connected, high-tech work environment have on a population largely entrusted with overseeing their own health needs? In California's Silicon Valley, a distinctive and medically diverse health culture has emerged.
Being and Well-Being explores this health culture, detailing the biomedical, countercultural, and immigrant-based beliefs and practices that shape ideas about working, care-giving, and what it means to be healthy. As English-Lueck shows, the integration of workplace productivity with personal health has created national patterns of discrimination against those not in the productive mainstream, including the unemployed, retired, and chronically ill. But new ideas about work and health can clarify core American values, highlight emerging global trends, and provide a vital assessment of the evolution of our shared pursuit of well-being.
While policymakers debate the possibilities for health insurance reform and government provisions, they overlook this lived experience. The shift of responsibility from organization to individual, a key feature of late capitalism, has significant implications. Individuals are supposed to be unfettered innovators at work, while managing the mundane details of their pensions and health plans. Workers are simultaneously responsible for work projects and for themselves as projects. Here, where work and health collide, in the front offices and on the warehouse floors, is one of the key ways in which people, in the guise of workers, feel capitalism.
About the author
J.A. English-Lueck is an anthropologist at San Jose State University and a Research Affiliate at the Institute for the Future. She coauthored Busier Than Ever! Why American Families Can't Slow Down (Stanford University Press, 2007), with C.N. Darrah and J.M. Freeman, and authored Cultures@SiliconValley (Stanford University Press, 2002), winner of the 2006 Diana Forsythe Prize.
"Carefully written, using data mined from a range of ethnographic projects spanning a period of 15 years, this thought-provoking monograph posits that Silicon Valley is very much a 'bellwether' for a host of emergent cultural forces related to work . . . Detailed and enjoyable to read, this monograph is a fine demonstration of the anthropologist's ability to challenge static social science categories . . . English-Lueck's text strips away economistic myopia and highlights with aplomb the human consequences of living and working in the Bay area and beyond."
—Kye Parkin, Anthropology of Work Review
"Clearly written with compelling stories, English-Lueck's anthropological study has much to tell historians of technology . . . This book is especially timely when the issue of national health insurance is so much at the fore. By showing how corporations' organization of production affects workers' health decisions, it highlights the inadequacies and costs of our current system"
—Janet Ore, Technology and Culture
"This outstanding book dissects the social fabric of Silicon Valley, a slice of the California coast marked by high technology and social, ethnic, and cultural diversity . . . Personal narratives vividly recount how age cohorts—from adolescents to the adult workforce and beyond—define and deal with health, work, and careers . . . Highly recommended."
—E. Wellin, CHOICE
"A remarkable book. Personal narratives bring vividly to life the generational differences in perspectives toward work and health, as well as illuminate the diversity and complexity of the shared environment in which these lives are led. Being and Well-Being raises important questions regarding the changing nature of work, of healthcare, of personal agency, of social networks, of cultural pluralism and of social justice, to name only a few."
—Lisa Faithorn, Ph.D., cultural anthropologist and organizational development practitioner, researcher for NASA
"A fascinating and timely exploration of the interweaving of work, health, and aging in Silicon Valley at the turn of the 21st century. English-Lueck approaches the anthropology of work from the typically neglected but critical perspective of the bodies of workers. The book is informed and insightful."
—Diane Schiano, Silicon Valley User Experience Researcher