Being and Well-Being: Health and the Working Bodies of Silicon Valley

Being and Well-Being: Health and the Working Bodies of Silicon Valley

Being and Well-Being: Health and the Working Bodies of Silicon Valley

Being and Well-Being: Health and the Working Bodies of Silicon Valley


As the great American work-benefit experiment erodes, companies are increasingly asking people to take responsibility for managing their own health. There's no question work and health are intertwined. But what effect does an intensely productive, globally connected, high-tech work environment have on a population largely entrusted with overseeing their own health needs? In California's Silicon Valley, a distinctive and medically diverse health culture has emerged.

Being and Well-Being explores this health culture, detailing the biomedical, countercultural, and immigrant-based beliefs and practices that shape ideas about working, care-giving, and what it means to be healthy. As English-Lueck shows, the integration of workplace productivity with personal health has created national patterns of discrimination against those not in the productive mainstream, including the unemployed, retired, and chronically ill. But new ideas about work and health can clarify core American values, highlight emerging global trends, and provide a vital assessment of the evolution of our shared pursuit of well-being.

While policymakers debate the possibilities for health insurance reform and government provisions, they overlook this lived experience. The shift of responsibility from organization to individual, a key feature of late capitalism, has significant implications. Individuals are supposed to be unfettered innovators at work, while managing the mundane details of their pensions and health plans. Workers are simultaneously responsible for work projects and for themselves as projects. Here, where work and health collide, in the front offices and on the warehouse floors, is one of the key ways in which people, in the guise of workers, feel capitalism.


There’s no telling
What’s on the mind
Of the bony
Character in plaid
Workcoat & glasses
Carrying lunch
Stalking and Bouncing
Slowly to his job

—Kerouac 1995, “11th Chorus,” 12

The Tectonic 2.5

The year is 2005. the Silicon Valley is beginning to come back from the dot-com bust of 2001. Each January, Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network, a public private partnership, issues an annual index assessing the business and social challenges of the previous year. Because I gather people’s stories as a cultural anthropologist, I relish the chance to study the numeric data gathered by Collaborative Economics from diverse governmental and private databases. Sitting in my office, glued to the screen scanning the downloaded file of the index, I scroll to the table of contents. I read, “Valley Productivity Rises to 2.5 Times National Average.” I sit there, stunned, feeling as if I were enduring some sort of conceptual earthquake. How is this remarkable figure accomplished? I think of Clare’s hands. I turn to page twenty and continue to read, “In 2004, the region’s value added of $224,200 per employee is more than two-and-half times U.S. value added per employee of $85,800” (Henton et al. 2005). Value-added, a sacred phrase in the new economy, is a . . .

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