Society for the Anthropology of North America
Oral Presentation Session
“When you look at value, you realize it’s not a two-dimensional thing but in fact a multi-dimensional thing. And it’s all about value, that’s the only thing that matters” (Regional director, construction company).
Among professionals working in the construction industry – a large ecosystem of interrelated occupations - ‘value’ represents an important concept to explain both what they do, and why they are doing it. Conceptualizations of value encompass not only ‘economic value’, but also ‘social value’. Thus, a good construction project should aim to 'add as much value as possible’ through revenue, job creation, skills, buildings fit for purpose and investment in communities, towns and cities, and regions. As individuals describe, they love the work they do because it takes them beyond the emptiness of ‘just making money’. While creating economic value is necessary, the creation of social value enables them to ‘contribute to society’ and work for the ‘greater good’.
This paper draws from on-going fieldwork on construction and development in neighboring Newcastle and Gateshead, de-industrialized cities simultaneously experiencing huge capital investment and brutal cuts. In this contradictory context, how do these articulations of value enable people to conceive of their work and its relations to capital flows in particular ways? And what is crystallized and what is obscured in these accounts of moral action?