Marx after Work

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Karen FOSTER, Dalhousie University, Canada
In this paper, I make the case that we are living in the midst of a "productivist ideational regime" (Foster, 2016; cf. Somers, 2008), a hegemonic belief, operationalized through political and sociocultural practices, that economic growth, achieved through ever-higher labour productivity, has made us happier and richer and is indeed essential for our quality of life. This ideational regime makes questioning the necessity of employment, the virtues of (paid) work and/or the dependence of income on employment (Livingston, 2013) almost heretical. It has dominated the way we think about work and income, economy and society, for at least two centuries. However, it has never completely silenced its ideational alternatives--"antiproductivist" demands for less work and more leisure, warnings about the ecological limits of economic growth, and anticonsumerism. These alternatives have bubbled up again in worldwide debates about the "end of work", impacts of automation on employment, Guaranteed Annual Income/Basic Income schemes, and Degrowth and related movements.

Taking up the critiques that other sociologists and theorists have made of Marx's "valorization" of work (Weeks, 2011), I show that Marx's writings contain a paradoxical mix of productivism and antiproductivism--expressed, for instance, in the tension between the freedom from work and the freedom in it--that offers some creative grist for the mill for those of us who wish to engage the contemporary expressions of antiproductivism listed above, and to question work's sociological significance at micro- and macro-sociological levels.