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The Thought of Work

The Thought of Work

John W. Budd
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The Thought of Work
    Book Description:

    What is work? Is it simply a burden to be tolerated or something more meaningful to one's sense of identity and self-worth? And why does it matter? In a uniquely thought-provoking book, John W. Budd presents ten historical and contemporary views of work from across the social sciences and humanities. By uncovering the diverse ways in which we conceptualize work-such as a way to serve or care for others, a source of freedom, a source of income, a method of psychological fulfillment, or a social relation shaped by class, gender, race, and power-The Thought of Work reveals the wide-ranging nature of work and establishes its fundamental importance for the human experience. When we work, we experience our biological, psychological, economic, and social selves. Work locates us in the world, helps us and others make sense of who we are, and determines our access to material and social resources.

    By integrating these distinct views, Budd replaces the usual fragmentary approaches to understanding the nature and meaning of work with a comprehensive approach that promotes a deep understanding of how work is understood, experienced, and analyzed. Concepts of work affect who and what is valued, perceptions of freedom and social integration, identity construction, evaluations of worker well-being, the legitimacy and design of human resource management practices, support for labor unions and labor standards, and relationships between religious faith and work ethics. By drawing explicit attention to diverse, implicit meanings of work, The Thought of Work allows us to better understand work, to value it, and to structure it in desirable ways that reflect its profound importance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6265-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    This book is about how to think about work. Deeply and fundamentally. What really is work? And why does it matter?

    The word work is rooted in the ancient Indo-European word werg meaning “to do” and is therefore etymologically related to energy (“in or at work”), lethargy (“without work”), allergy (“oppositional work”), synergy (“working together”), liturgy (“public work”), and organ (“a tool” as in “working with something”). The Oxford English Dictionary further lists twenty-one definitions of work as a noun and forty as a verb. These linguistic features of work reflect the realities of human work—embedded in many elements...

  5. Chapter 1 Work as a Curse
    (pp. 19-26)

    Work can be a four-letter word. It can be hard, hot, dangerous, and dull. Day after day, year after year, work can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. For centuries, then, work has been seen negatively as a burden. Contemplation and leisure are seen as the ideal human activities; work is “a necessary evil to be avoided.” In the words of Sigmund Freud, “The great majority work only when forced by necessity,” and in his characterization, this amounts to a “natural human aversion to work.” ¹ As revealed at various places in this book, some disagree that this aversion to...

  6. Chapter 2 Work as Freedom
    (pp. 27-42)

    The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines freedom as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” This leads to two ways of thinking about freedom as it relates to work—independence from the primary demands of surviving in the natural environment, and liberty from the coercion of other humans. For most of human history, it would have been curious to associate work with either sense of freedom. Some slaves might have been able to work hard enough to earn their freedom, but work more generally was likely seen as obligated by God, nature, custom, law, or physical force. The...

  7. Chapter 3 Work as a Commodity
    (pp. 43-58)

    Over four thousand years ago in Mesopotamia, Marduk-naçir was hired by Mar-Sippar for a year and paid two and a half shekels of silver in wages. This and other examples of wage labor in ancient civilizations demonstrate that paid employment is not a creation of capitalism. But paid employment is unique under industrial capitalism in at least two ways. First, a greater fraction of individuals work for pay in an industrialized, capitalist economy than in other economic systems. In other words, paid employment becomes a dominant mode of economic activity for the first time with the emergence of industrial capitalism....

  8. Chapter 4 Work as Occupational Citizenship
    (pp. 59-76)

    When work is conceptualized as a commodity, it is seen as governed by the marketplace, with outcomes determined by supply and demand. There is then little basis for considering standards for work that go beyond the freedom for individuals to work in any occupation and quit at will so that work is efficiently allocated. An alternative conceptualization is to reject that work is purely a commodity and to instead emphasize that work is done by human beings who are members of communities and societies. From this perspective, workers are citizens who are entitled to decent working and living conditions that...

  9. Chapter 5 Work as Disutility
    (pp. 77-88)

    One obvious reason why people work is for money. In the popular 1960s song “Five O’Clock World,” an individual laments another day toiling at work while longing for the end of the workday:

    Tradin’ my time for the pay I get

    Livin’ on money that I ain’t made yet

    Gotta keep goin’, gotta make my way

    But I live for the end of the day

    But it’s a five o’clock world when the whistle blows

    No one owns a piece of my time

    And there’s a long-haired girl who waits, I know

    To ease my troubled mind, yeah 1 Work...

  10. Chapter 6 Work as Personal Fulfillment
    (pp. 89-106)

    Rather than a burden, work can be fun. In the words of guitarist Ace Frehley from the rock band Kiss:

    I got involved with rock ’n’ roll because it’s fun. It’s not really work to me. When I’m having fun, at the end of the day I say, “Wow, I’m having a great time. I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this.” That’s the way it should be. When you’re on tour you should be having a great time. That’s what it’s all about.

    Work can be intrinsically rewarding, not just a source of income. A 1930s union organizer...

  11. Chapter 7 Work as a Social Relation
    (pp. 107-125)

    More than twenty-five hundred years ago, the Greek poet Hesiod gave social approval to hard work and described a lack of acceptability for laziness:

    Both gods and men are angry with a man who lives in idleness, for in nature he is like the stingless drones who waste the labor of the bees, eating without working; but let it be your care to order your work properly, that in the right season your barns may be full. Through work men grow rich in flocks and substance, and working they are much better loved by the immortals. Work is no disgrace;...

  12. Chapter 8 Work as Caring for Others
    (pp. 126-142)

    In George Elgar Hicks’s painting The Sinews of Old England (1857), a sturdy man is about to leave for work, pickax over his shoulder, while his wife is portrayed as staying behind to tend to the household chores and care for their son. In Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930), a man dressed in overalls holds a pitchfork, and his workplace (a barn) is visible behind his left shoulder, while a woman, perhaps the farmer’s unmarried daughter, is framed by her workplace (a house), and an apron covers her dress. These paintings portray a sexual division of labor in which men...

  13. Chapter 9 Work as Identity
    (pp. 143-161)

    In some cultures, a new acquaintance’s occupation and employer is one of the first topics of conversation. That this is frequently phrased as “What do you do?” underscores the tight linkage between work and identity in these cultures, a linkage that looms large in the main character’s thoughts in an American novel:

    What do you do? Huh? What do you do? What do I do? Yes, what do you do? Well, I breathe I eat I drink I dream I sleep I see. . . . No, no, what do you do? Your job. That was the first and only...

  14. Chapter 10 Work as Service
    (pp. 162-177)

    Before the decisive British naval victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, Admiral Horatio Nelson famously signaled one last message to the rest of his fleet: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” In his 1961 inauguration speech, President John F. Kennedy called on Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Hindu scripture instructs individuals to “strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal in life,” while Islam teaches that “the best of men...

  15. Conclusion: Work Matters
    (pp. 178-186)

    Work is frequently invisible.¹ Everything we use, right down to the paper and ink for this book, is made and transported by people we rarely see or know and who work under conditions we rarely think about. Employees are typically invisible in business education and in corporate governance. Issues related to work or labor standards are seldom at the top of many countries’ political agendas, and in the international arena, the World Trade Organization has explicitly said that labor standards are not its concern. In academia, work-related research is typically not viewed as being on the vanguard of contemporary scholarship...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 187-238)
  17. Index
    (pp. 239-246)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-248)