For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"A History of the Value Accorded to Work"

by Méda, Dominique; Vendramin, Patricia (2017)


The notion of work as an activity through which human beings transform the world in which they live, remaking it in their image and finding in this process one of their most important ways of participating in social life, is a recent and eminently modern idea. Since Antiquity, work has gradually come to occupy a more and more central place in societies, to the extent that it is possible to speak of “work-based societies”. Over recent centuries, new layers of meaning have accreted to the idea of work, expanding individuals’ expectations of it. Work is at one and the same time represented in economic calculation as a “factor of production”, to be utilised as efficiently as possible; seen as an opportunity for individual self-fulfilment; and treated as a basis for the distribution of income, rights and welfare. In those societies where the expressive dimension of work has come to be salient, the different, contradictory meanings attached to work all coexist, generating tensions. There are different approaches that can be taken to try and grasp people’s relationships to work: one can look to the major European surveys, which enable comparison but also have their limits, or engage in in-depth, face-to-face questioning. Either way, understanding relationships to work is a complex matter.


Méda, Sociology, Political Economy, European Context, Historiography, Historical Context, Antiquity



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