For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Beyond Nature and Culture

by Descola, Philippe (2013)

Key Passage

The idea of production as the imposition of form upon inert matter is simply an attenuated expression of the schema of action that rests upon two interdependent premises: the preponderance of an individualized intentional agent as the cause of the coming- to- be of beings and things, and the radical differencebetween the ontological status of the creator and that of whatever he produces. According to the paradigm of creation- production, the subject is autonomous and his intervention in the world reflects his personal characteristics: whether he is a god, a demiurge, or a simple mortal, he produces his oeuvre according to a preestablished plan and with a defi nite purpose—hence the abundance of craftsmanship metaphors that are used to express the origin of this type of relationship. In the Psalms, the Creator is compared to a wellsinker,a gardener, a potter, and an architect. In the Timaeus, the demiurge creates the world, fashioning it as a potter would. He carefully composes the mixture that he is about to work on; he turns it on his wheel to form a sphere, then he rounds it off and polishes the surface. Here, the image of fabrication, poiesis, is central; and so it remains in the modern conception of the relationship of a producer and that which he produces. What also remains is the idea of the absolute heterogeneity between them: the creator, craftsman, or producer possesses his own plan of the thing that he will bring into existence and gives himself the technical means to realize his intended purpose by projecting his will upon the matter that he manipulates. In the same way, just as the Creator and his creation are incommensurable in Christian dogma, in the Western tradition there is no ontological equivalence between the producer and whatever he brings into being. (p.323)

Keywords

Descola, Anthropology, Ethnocentrism, Production

Themes

Historiography of Work, Concepts of Work, Descola, Anthropology of Work

Translator

Loyd, J.

Citation

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