For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Beyond Nature and Culture

by Descola, Philippe (2013)

Key Passage

As a way of conceiving action on the world and a specific relationship in which a subject generates an object, production thus does not have a universal applicability. It presupposes the existence of a clearly individualized agent who projects his interiority on to indeterminate matter in order to give form to it and thus bring into existence an entity for which he alone is responsible and that he can then appropriate for his own use or exchange for other realities of the same type. Now, to return to our two examples: the production model does not correspond either to the concept of a continuous autopoietic process as expressed in Chinese thought or to the priority that, in Amazonia,is granted to reciprocal transformation over fabrication ex nihilo. For thisreason, anthropologists are perhaps unwise when they succumb to the convenient temptation to use the familiar language of production to interpret the very diverse phenomena by means of which a reality, whether or not of a material nature, comes to be instituted. To speak of the “production” of a person, of social links, of a subject, or of the diff erence between the sexes outside the Western context, in which, for several millennia, this notion has encompassed an altogether singular relationship, is at best, in most cases, an abuse of language that leads to false parallels. (p.325)


Descola, Anthropology, Ethnocentrism, Production


History of Work, Concepts of Work, Descola, Anthropology of Work


Loyd, J.



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