Date of Award

Spring 1994

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Bud B Khleif


In this dissertation the relationship between structure and culture is explored in the context of the American work ethic. This analysis has two components. The first involves a socio-historical examination of the evolution of conceptions of work. Work is first viewed as lacking any positive qualities but with the emergence of the Protestant ethic and its later secularized versions, work took on positive meaning. These conceptions are analyzed in relation to their structural context, particularly early capitalist industrial society.

To further explore the relationship between culture and structure, a second component is included in this research. In order to characterize and analyze the contemporary work ethic, 40 in-depth interviews were conducted with and 177 open-ended questionnaires were distributed to individuals in a variety of occupations. The findings of this research indicate that the current contemporary work ethic can be characterized as containing work values emphasizing self-fulfillment, relations with others, and purpose.

Relying upon structuralist constructivism theory, wherein culture is seen as being created within the boundaries delineated by structure, occupational variations in work values are shown to exist. Upper-status professionals are more likely to cite contributing to society and working for mental stimulation and self actualization as important values of work. Middle-status semi-professionals are more likely to report helping others and working to learn and grow as central values. Those working in lower-status occupations more often cite working as a team, pleasing the boss, working to fill time and fight boredom, and maintaining self-sufficiency as work values.

The contemporary work ethic is analyzed according to mass culture and economic structure as well as the interaction of these two forces. Further, by treating the work ethic as an ideology, both traditional and contemporary work ethics are linked to the structural context in which they emerged. The traditional work ethic can no longer provide meaning of or justification for economic structure and has thus undergone transformation to a more self-fulfillment oriented ethic. Similarly, in transformation to a post-industrial society, the nature of the contemporary work ethic may change.