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The growth and the stagnation of work stress: Publication trends and scientific representations 1960-2011


Stress at work is a frequent subject of scientific research. In most of this, the unit of analysis has been the employee and his or her work stress. Historical, cultural and macro-contextual approaches have rarely been included in the analytical framework. In this study, we examined secular trends in scientific publications on work stress, and analysed how, over a period of 50 years, a new discursive, institutional, intellectual and subjective space has developed, in which questions related to workers’ diminished mental energy became the centre of attention. Our interpretation links the occupational health debate to the broader historical and cultural processes that took place in western countries and work organizations in the period 1960–2011. Our quantitative analysis shows how the number of work stress publications rose steeply until the early 2000s and how the growth evened out and even started to decline in some data sources in the early 2010s. It would seem that work stress research is reaching its peak and that other conceptualizations in the domain of occupational health (e.g. resource-based views) are becoming more important. This historical study provides new insights regarding the nature of work stress and its links with societal changes for all those interested in the changing nature of health at work.

Publication Date Oct 1, 2014
Journal History of the Human Sciences
Print ISSN 0952-6951
Publisher SAGE Publications
Pages 116 - 138
Keywords emotions; history; occupational stress; science; work stress
Publisher URL


The growth and the stagnation Vanaanen et al 2014.doc (221 Kb)

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