For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The limits of workplace community: Jean-Luc Nancy and the possibility of teambuilding"

by Bertland, Alexander (2011)


Jean-Luc Nancy is a contemporary continental philosopher who argues that the hope of fully unifying a community through work is problematic. This is because people cannot be reduced to their function as workers. Thus, community is, at best, inoperative. This article takes Nancy’s ideas of community and applies them to the notion of teamwork in business. It shows how in some literature on business teamwork, there is a desire to build a team through shared work experiences. It then explains Nancy’s view as to why this cannot work, and it enters into Nancy’s positive account of how a community should be seen as a web of people communicating and sharing with each other in a variety of ways. The practical conclusion the study draws is that team members need to be careful about allowing goal orientation to obfuscate the richness of the relationships that occur among team members. People need to explore all of the ways in which people share with each other rather than just those ways that advance a narrow set of goals. If the richness of those relationships is recognized, many new directions for business and for general human development may appear.

Key Passage

An initial question Jean-Luc Nancy considers is why do we as a culture want to form tightly knit communities that are bound together through work? A business manager might say that they want to build teams because the motivation and the communication they provide make them the most efficient ways of organizing people. However, this does not seem inherently obvious and certainly there have been times when teamwork was not as heavily relied on. Nancy suggests that there is a strong push throughout the history of our culture to create efficiently working collectives. As a result, there is deeply ingrained within us a desire to form collective entities through work. He points to the fact that when our society looks at ancient civilizations and ancient myths, we tend to see those societies as highly efficient unified organizations where everyone worked together completely harmoniously. We then bemoan the fact that our contemporary culture lacks this same harmony and motivation to work selflessly for the common good. So we desire a return to a lost time, usually aroundthe time of the foundation of our society, where we were all one. (p.4)


Community, Nancy, Continental Philosophy, Teambuilding, Teams, Workplace Relationships, Relationships


On Nancy

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