Labour in the Laboratory: Medical Laboratory Workers in the Maritimes


241 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2861-X
DDC 610.73'7'09715




Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


Peter Twohig’s research of lab workers in the Maritimes is a
fascinating study of “invisible workers,” a neglected group, hidden
from public view. Twohig’s study is also distinctive, rejecting the
approach of looking at “discrete occupational groups,” institutions,
and professions in favour of what he calls the social relations of work.

This approach enables Twohig, a professor at St. Mary’s University,
to explore all the dimensions of laboratory work—the role of gender,
social position, and status; the division of work into mental and manual
components; and the assignment of the mental component to the (male) lab
directors. There is a thorough treatment of the work itself, the work
experience and qualifications of the workers, “multi-tasking” in the
lab, and the transient nature of the workforce. Instead of “lab
workers,” we see medical or health workers constantly entering and
leaving the hidden occupation that mediates the medical infrastructure
and the patients of hospitals and doctors. All this is done with a
refreshing absence of sociological jargon.

The book discusses and sets the stage for the big changes that were to
occur in the second half of the century: a huge growth in the medical
industry, corresponding unionization of the work-force, and the
appearance of the private laboratory in service of the public health

Books such as Twohig’s are hard to evaluate since they are
groundbreaking works in a neglected area of study. There is no reason to
doubt that his book will find its place as the starting point for
similar studies, to be built on rather than noted or sidelined.


Twohig, Peter L., “Labour in the Laboratory: Medical Laboratory Workers in the Maritimes,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 25, 2024,