Work and Dignity   /   Fall 2012   /    Work And Dignity

Dignity and the Professionalized Body

Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification

Benjamin H. Snyder

Alvaro and I follow Interstate 40 east as it carves a wedge-shaped gap through the Smokey Mountains. He has just spent the last five hundred miles of our trip telling me how stressful long haul truck driving can be. Tight deadlines, an erratic sleep pattern, short-tempered shippers, traffic, weather—his work involves navigating myriad contingencies in order to do one thing: be on time. After several hours of talking about stress, I ask, “what brings you back to the job?” “I like the rush,” he replies. “Like when you’ve been driving all night, and pushing and pushing, and you get there, and your body and your hands are shaking, and your vision is just like….” He can’t find the words to describe his feelings, so he gestures forward with both hands to make the image of a narrowing passage: “I love that feeling.”

Alvaro is one of dozens of American truck drivers I talked to and rode alongside over the last three years as part of a larger study on time pressure, stress, and busyness in the American workplace. Like many drivers I met, Alvaro has a unique knowledge of the limits of his body. I would argue that, because of this specialized knowledge, he has a “professionalized body.” Those two words do not often appear together when we talk about work today. A professional is more often thought of as a knowledge worker. He or she has specialized knowledge of concepts and procedures gained through formal training that instills a deep commitment to work as a “calling.”

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