Handbook of Research Methods on the Quality of Working Lives
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Handbook of Research Methods on the Quality of Working Lives

Edited by Daniel Wheatley

The growing diversity of contemporary paid work has provoked increased interest in understanding and evaluating the quality of working lives. This Handbook provides critical reflections on recent research in the field, including examining the inextricable links between working life and well-being.
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Chapter 9: Observing neo-villeiny and other forms of non-standard work

Geraint Harvey


Drawing on an in-depth ethnographic study of non-standard work, the chapter considers the ways in which observation was key to understanding the work of fitness industry personal trainers as unique, i.e. as neo-villeiny. Following a brief introduction to participation observation, this chapter focuses on the method in practice. The aesthetic dimension of the personal trainer’s work is critical and without participant observation the ‘instrumental peacocking’ (Harvey et al., 2014: 462), whereby the personal trainer showcases their physical capital (Bourdieu, 1984) in order to attract clients, might have been missed. The chapter also illustrates the ways in which participant observation was necessary in order to understand the quality or genuineness of emotional labour. Most importantly, perhaps, the chapter documents the importance of participation observation in documenting the extensiveness of ‘work-for-labour’ (Standing, 2011), which was core to the concept of neo-villeiny.

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