For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Beyond Nature and Culture

by Descola, Philippe (2013)

Key Passage

Marx’s position is indicative of the more general tendency of modern thought to regard production as the element that determines the material conditions of social life and as the principal way for humans to transform nature and, by doing so, transform themselves. Whether or not one is a Marxist, it is now commonly thought that the history of humanity is primarily founded on the dynamism introduced by a succession of ways of producing use value and exchange value of the materials that the environment provides. But it is fair to question whether this preeminence ascribed to the process of productive objectivization applies generally to all societies. To be sure, humans have always and everywhere been productive; everywhere they have modified or fashioned substances intentionally in order to procure themselves the means of existence, thereby exercising their capacity to behave as agents who impose specifi c forms and purposes upon matter that is independent of themselves. But does this mean that this kind of action is everywhere apprehended in accordance with the model of a relation to the world known as “production,” a model so paradigmatic and familiar to us that we have become accustomed to use it to describe extremely heterogeneous operations carried out in very diverse contexts? (p.322)


Descola, Anthropology, Ethnocentrism, Production


Work in World History, History of Work, Concepts of Work, Descola, Anthropology of Work


Loyd, J.



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