This thesis argues that liberal Quakerism is unable to transcend the bounded practices of contemporary work life.
My evolving interests lie in how the mundane horizons of contemporary work life variously liberate and marginalise Quaker utopian ideals. I see my research as revealing how far Quaker ideals are shared in their social practice. I am also interested in exploring how Quakers 'read' and oppose organisational ideals and how Quaker visions are resisted within the work process.
This qualitative research is an exploration of work in contemporary Britain as seen through the eyes of liberal Quakers. The research frames Quakers in utopian terms, as a religious group seeking to share their vision of an ultimate horizon with the secular world. Work organisations are also viewed as idealistic, modelling their members against a managerially-defined vision of the perfect worker. It is this relationship, between competing religious and secular definitions of the ideal, which the research attempts to delineate.
Data was acquired through semi-structured interviews from twenty affiliates of the religious group who occupy a wide variety of occupations. Analysis has revealed that, within the work context, an individual’s religiosity is accepted as a fact but is resisted as an act by the organisation. In this sense, work constrains expressions of Quaker faith. From a Quaker perspective, religiously-informed practice which transgresses this compact is likely to be viewed as oppositional and marginalised through the formal and informal authority structures of the collective work setting.
Quaker work life, however, maintains a religious dynamic if we re-frame the structural idea of the 'workplace' as, instead, one of 'workfluss': that is, if we view the work organisation as constituted by the ever-shifting and evolving subjectivities of its members. And Quakers' ultimate horizons are defined in terms of a 'being with' (Heidegger, Thomas). Thus, Quakers 'being with' is aligned within the workfluss - and often disguised within secular discourses - as variously oppositional and alternative to the organisational ideal. In this sense, Quakers view of their work-life transcends, is 'more than', a technical-managerial definition of an ideal worker.
Quaker 'being with' manages to avoid marginalisation within the work process largely because affiliates' social practice is more-or-less conversant with their contemporary 'caring' occupational choices. In other words, Quaker 'being with' is liberated by their work-life. However, the workfluss only indirectly supports Quaker ideals; contemporary organisational impulses move to marginalise religious alternatives as oppositional. Thus, a compatible work context matters in terms of how Quaker practice is realised. And my thesis aims therefore to delineate as situated, rather than ultimate, the horizons of Quaker social practice within contemporary secular work-life.