The concept of ‘dirty work’ has much potential to offer insights into processes related to the construction of organizational identities and work-group cultures. In this article, I use a social constructionist framework, to argue that ‘dirty workers’ perform their identities in two conceptually distinct contexts: ‘front regions’ and ‘back regions’ (Goffman, 1959), each producing its own subjective challenges. I use a critical discourse analysis to explore how, within the research interview setting, police officers deal with the moral dilemma of their use of coercive authority. I argue that what is designated as ‘dirty’ within any specific role differs according to the perspective of the observer, revealing the boundaries and landscape of different moral and social orders and how these overlap and compete. It is further argued that, within specific interactional contexts, occupational identity comprises a site of contestation for these different moral and social orders. The utility of the dirty work concept is explored in relation to its ability to illuminate the dynamics of ideological reproduction and transformation.
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