For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"A heideggerian phenomenology approach to higher education as workplace: A consideration of academic professionalism"

by Gibbs, Paul (2010)


Heidegger’s early works provide his most important contribution to our understanding of being, while his discussion of the effects of technology on that being in his later works is one of his best known contributions. I use his phenomenological approach to understanding the workplace and then, from a range of potential applications, choose to describe the functioning of higher education as a workplace for academic professionals. Heidegger seemingly fails to offer a subtle approach to what is labouring, or to whether there is a substantive difference between labouring and working. To find such approaches I draw upon work of both Marcuse and Arendt which specifically relates to these distinctions.

Key Passage

Heidegger suggests that work is our universal human condition (‘man experiences real beings as a worker and soldier does, and makes available what alone is to count as a being’, Heidegger 1998: 33) for we are producers of our own being as well as the artefacts that define our world, as a way in which we experience life through varied engagements with beings. This idea is perhaps best encapsulated by the Greek origin of the word poiesis, meaning bringing forth. Poiesis relates to all ways that humans produce things. Heidegger tends to favour Aristotle’s distinction between poiesis and praxis, retaining praxis in its sense of action without a defined end, as distinct from the blueprinted intention of poiesis (Taminiaux 1987). It is in the ontological meaning of work, the being of work, that a Heideggerian perspective offers real insights. Heidegger is very clear on the role of the craftsman and his direct link to owner of his production and extends this, somewhat diluted, to mass manufacturing (1962: 100). This is illustrated in What is Called Thinking, where he uses the example of the cabinetmaker’s apprentice. His apprenticeship is not exclusively in the instrumental skills of the trade, but in the being of the craft through an understanding of the nature of wood and its usability; not as the mere manipulator of tools, but in a deeper, ontological relation to wood. Heidegger then contrasts this with modernity by asking ‘where in the manipulations of the industrial worker is there any relatedness to such things as the shapes slumbering within the wood?’ (p.279)


Heidegger, Marcuse, Arendt, Workplace, Higher Education, Professionalism, Academia, Academic Work, Education, Higher Education


On Heidegger, Education

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