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The mythologisation of key workers: occupational prestige gained, sustained... and lost?

Camilla R. De Camargo (School of Law, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Kingston University, London, UK)
Lilith A. Whiley (Kingston Business School, Kingston University, London, UK)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 16 October 2020

Issue publication date: 2 December 2020

Abstract

Purpose

Key workers are deemed “essential” for keeping the country going while the rest of us have been resigned to the safety of our homes. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, key workers have become the exalted symbol of the pandemic; although, during pre-pandemic many of these roles were considered “low skilled” and were (and still are) low paid.

Design/methodology/approach

The analysis uses newspapers as data sources to discuss occupational prestige and situate it within previous theory.

Findings

This social commentary discusses how occupational prestige evolves and devolves during times of social change, and how elevated status, dependent on one's service to the country in the spirit of a “war-time” narrative, is just temporary and fleeting. Prestige is wrapped up in notions of class, income and education, and during the pandemic, “key workers” have become their own sub-group with an almost mythologised status and value, which the authors argue might take the focus away from genuine efforts to improve working conditions (e.g. access to PPE and pay rises etcetera).

Originality/value

The article considers the current value of key workers and how elevated levels of prestige are transitory. The enduring nature of this new status is yet to be seen. More qualitative nuanced research is required around how occupational prestige changes, evolves and devolves and more quantitative research on why and how widespread some of the critical issues might be.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Ethical statement: The research adheres to ethical guidelines as well as authors' national ethics guidelines.Sources of fundings: The authors have no sources of funding to disclose.Conflicts of interest: None.

Citation

De Camargo, C.R. and Whiley, L.A. (2020), "The mythologisation of key workers: occupational prestige gained, sustained... and lost?", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 40 No. 9/10, pp. 849-859. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSSP-07-2020-0310

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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