For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Punitive Society. Lectures at the Collège de France 1972-1973

by Foucault, Michel (2015)

Key Passage

Certainly, the nineteenth century did not invent idleness, but one could write a whole history of laziness, that is to say not of leisure activities—which is how idleness has been codified, institutionalized, as a certain way of distributing non-work across the cycles of production, integrating idleness into the economy by taking it up and controlling it within a system of consumption—but of the ways one evades the obligation of work, steals labor-power, and avoids letting oneself be held and pinned down by the production apparatus. Now, if a history of laziness is possible, it is because it is not at issue in the same way in the different struggles that correspond to the different relations of production within which it acts as a disruptive force. There is a classical form of laziness in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that is defined by the term idleness. It is located and controlled at two levels: [on the one hand,] it is subject to a local, almost individual pressure, that of the master-craftsman who makes his journeyman work as much as possible. [On the other hand,] at the level of the State, and in a form of economy dominated for a long time by mercantilist themes, it is the obligation to put everyone to work in order to increase production as much as possible—the instruments of this being the police and intendants. Between these two pressures, craft cell and State police, there is a road space in which idleness may manifest itself. In the nineteenth century, laziness will take another form; to start with because there will be need for the cyclical idle: the unemployed. Hence we see the reproach of idleness leveled against the working class disappear quite quickly. On the other hand, with the birth of industrial centers, of factories asobjects of control and pressure, there are all those refusals of work that take on a more or less collective and organized form, including strikes. (p.189)


No Keywords


The Punitive Society, Leisure, Laziness, Idleness



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