The Therapeutization of Work: The Psychological Toolbox as Rationalization Device during the Third Industrial Revolution in Sweden


The organization of work in the Western welfare states has made use of psychological know-how since the early twentieth century, for instance by making the practices of ‘psychotechnics’ and ‘human relations’ a part of the production apparatus. The last decades, however, have seen the development of a new economy based on information and communication technologies and with a related shift in organizational ideals from large hierarchical structures to networks of self-governing units – a change sometimes labelled the third industrial revolution. This development has meant new possibilities for the deployment of psychological knowledge in organizational management.

The present study takes as its geographical starting point the greater Stockholm area in Sweden. Through a variant of multi-sited fieldwork it investigates the distribution of psychological know-how in and through different institutions – such as school, work life, health care – by which the average ‘worker-citizen’ is supposed to acquire a ‘psychological toolbox’, thus becoming a kind of amateur psychologist or therapist, ready and able to take responsibility for his or her own productivity, well-being and health. The study depicts this ideal of psychological self-regulation: its discourse and practices, and how it emerged as a part of the technological and organizational developments of the third industrial revolution.