This article explores the relationship between personal sacrifice and identity work within conditions of profound structural insecurity. We develop the concept of sacrificial labour to describe how individual self-sacrifice aligns workers’ identities to the needs of organizations while gradually foreclosing the actualization of individuals’ desired future selves. Drawing upon qualitative data from a longitudinal study of healthy individuals who enrol in paid clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry, we make two contributions to the identity-work literature. First, we argue that the ongoing project of building stable and secure identities may become damaging when structural and cultural conditions defy even provisional, fragile attainment of this goal. Second, we reflect on how racialization and social marginalization erode identities and constrain possibilities for identity recuperation. Whereas the identity-work literature often focuses on the agential accomplishments of individuals, we provide a troubling account of how persistent social and economic inequalities confound identity realization efforts.
Work, Employment & Society 34 (3) : 441-456Full article