, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 345–367 | Cite as

Psychometrics as moral labour: Subject formation at the intersection of neoliberal and spiritual discourse

  • Susan WardellEmail author
  • Ruth Fitzgerald
Original Article


This ethnography-based research article explores the negotiation of well-being and subjectivity for youth workers in a Faith-Based Organisation (Canterbury Youth Services [CYS]) in Christchurch, New Zealand. We highlight the emergent significance of the Clifton StrengthsFinder psychometric assessment as a biopolitical mechanism, operating to actualise vocational identities and optimise ‘life and health’ of CYS leaders, in response to burnout and other salient threats to ‘collective human vitality’. We demonstrate how StrengthsFinder contributes to the governing and responsibilisation of youth workers through a call to heightened self-reflexivity, interacting with existing faith practices. We suggest the concept of ‘moral labour’ as the most appropriate term to describe the active participation of individuals in their own subjectification through a combination of managerial and spiritual techniques. We highlight the paradoxical value of this neoliberal/managerial tool of introspection and personality auditing to the growth of spiritual identities.


Neoliberalism Christianity Psychometrics Subjectivity Morality Non-profit work 



The authors would like to acknowledge the Cross-Cultural and Comparative Studies (CCCS) Research Theme, the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, at the University of Otago, and the University of Otago PhD Scholarship programme for generous financial support towards the fieldwork on which this article is based. We would also like to offer thanks to all of the named and unnamed participants of this study, at Canterbury Youth Services, whose openness of heart made the research not only a privilege but a pleasure.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social Anthropology Programme, Department of Anthropology & ArchaeologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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