The Book I’m Currently Writing

Two months ago, I set out to answer the question, “why do we work?” I haven’t answered it yet, but I feel like I know a lot more than I did back then. Namely, I know how much I don’t know.

The writing I’ve been doing over the last two months is helping to firm up an idea in my head of where to go next. So, I’m going to engage in the time-honoured academic practise of drawing up a new structure for the imagined output of all of this effort. It’s a sort of iterative plan, a self-moving target.

I’ve been turning the following chapter structure over in my head – it’s still very preliminary, but it’s more developed than the one I posited in my introductory post. This will not be the last one of these that I make.

Part I – What is Work?

Chapter 1 – Definitions

A look at various definitions of ‘work’ and the politics of each of them – for example, one from various academic disciplines – Sociology, Anthropology, Economics, a couple from the State, such at the ABS, and a few theoretical ones, like Marx, Weber, and Arendt.

Chapter 2 – The Neoliberal Labour Market and the ‘Atheist Work Ethic’

Here I want to try something a bit novel; I want to line up the academic work on anti-natalism with the notion of the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ to make my own assumptions about work a little clearer and provide an ethical or political heart to the analysis to follow. The idea is to illuminate the prevalence of Protestant and (Neo)Liberal ideas of hard work and justice in contemporary ideas about work, and to propose an aternative view that argues nobody who is already alive should have to “earn” a living.

Part II – A History of the Present of Work

Chapter 3 – the Workplace

This chapter will deal with work leaving the household and the way subsistence activities were moved ‘onto the market’. The aim is to define the workplace by what it isn’t, and to thus look at the way an essential dichotomy relating to work was set up – that of work and home.

Chapter 4 – the Worker

Like the last chapter, this chapter will deal with a category of work by lookign at the management of its opposite – namely the creation of rules of vagrancy and vagabondage, and the rise of the poor house and workhouse in Europe in the 19th century.

Chapter 5 – Productivity

This chapter will look at how output over time became a thing – so it’ll end up being about Fordism but it’ll also be about the demand that workers give the majority of their lives over to their employers.

Chapter 6 – The Enterprise

This is extremely provisional; I’m not even sure what’s available here. But what I want to do is look at the ways ‘companies’ came into being as a way to work together for profit, the influences on them, and the ways they’ve changed over time.

Chapter 7 – Management

The idea of this chapter is to look at how principles and practises of management have changed over time. If I can stomach looking at management textbooks for long enough, that is.

Chapter 8 – Projects and Partnerships

The point here is to look at the erosion of stability in the knowledge economy – the slide to insecure piecework (the ‘gig economy’), flexible roles and remits, and intangible outcomes. This might end up being two chapters because the gig economy is a poor fit (but I don’t really know where else to put it).

Part III – Conclusions

Chapter 9 – A note on Automation

I feel a little bit like Automation doesn’t really belong in the previous section because the more I look into it the more obvious it is that automation has been with us since Archimedes at least. So given that it flows through the whole piece and connects/is produced by the others, but is also all about anxiety, I think it probably belongs here.

Chapter 10 – Why are we so anxious about the future of work?

This is the payoff – I want to sketch out some reasons we are all so damn worried about the future of work, as well as why I think we should be (but aren’t) and why I think we arent’ (but should be). Things like climate change and the climate costs of jobs, the rise of Shadow Work and individualism, the breakdown of collective activity, and most important of all, the end of the value system imposed by the Protestant Work Ethic.


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