The demise of repetitive strain injury in sceptical governing rationalities of workplace managers
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In the mid-1990s, RSI (repetitive strain injury) loomed as an occupational health epidemic in industrialised countries. A decade later, the problem appears to have faded away, but there has been little explanation for how this problem might have diminished. This paper offers an explanation for the decline of RSI in the social relations of workplaces, in the pragmatic, day-to-day governance of occupational health by workplace managers. Using the conceptual lens of governmentality theory, this study examined how workplace managers conceptualised, rationalised and responded to RSI in their work organisations. Open-ended interviews were conducted with 35 managers at four Ontario newspaper workplaces. This paper describes managers as guided by a discourse of scepticism about the legitimacy of RSI complaints. This discourse was 'practised' in different ways at each newspaper in varied RSI-management strategies, but each strategy privileged ideas about RSI being problematic in certain types of workers rather than in types of physical work environments. This conceptualisation of RSI splintered, subordinated and collapsed the problem within a broad human resources framework. This paper suggests that the 'taming' of RSI might have occurred in the context of micro-political, workplace-level shifts in the conceptualisation and management of RSI as an occupational health problem.
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