"Humanism and the Ideology of Work"
by Mercer, Samuel J R (2018)
This thesis argues that humanism, despite being subject to a sustained critique within the social sciences over the past fifty years or more, continues to limit the critical and explanatory power of the sociology of work, preventing a fuller understanding of the nature of work under contemporary capitalism. Developing Louis Althusser’s (1996) critique of humanism and ideology, humanism is shown to be an ideological problem for the sociology of work insofar as it brackets, obfuscates or mystifies key social relations of work and, by extension, the class struggles reflected in those relations. Humanism presents a persistent and pervasive problem for the sociology of work, as both an explanatory and critical framework. Because of the persistence of humanism in the sociology of work, the problems of contemporary work – and the proposed ‘solutions’ to these problems – are located not in an analysis of the social relations of these realities, but in ideological discourses of human alienation and human self-affirmation. The thesis explores the extent of this ideological problem across three contemporary debates within the sociology of work: ‘postcapitalist’ discourse (Srnicek & Williams, 2015) and the emergence of a contemporary post-work imaginary; feminist discourses on the ‘bioeconomy’ (Cooper & Waldby, 2014) and theories of social reproduction in the context of sex work, tissue donation and surrogacy; and the figuration of labour and work within contemporary social scientific discourses of the ‘Anthropocene’ (Bonneuil & Fressoz, 2016). In each of these areas, the thesis demonstrates how much of the sociology of work continues to rely on humanistic ideas to provide a normative theoretical foundation and a critical edge. If the sociology of work is to provide a genuinely critical orientation for understanding the changing world of work, this thesis argues, then the critique of humanism remains a central task.
KeywordsSociology, Postcapitalist Discourse, Louis Althusser
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