For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Cooperating As Peers: Labor Justice Between Distributive and Relational Equality"

by Celentano, D (2019)


Contemporary theories of justice seem to have little to say about work. Few authors believe that it raises questions of justice. Either work is seen as having the same philosophical weight as personal tastes, or it is considered to only raise problems relating to income. Despite its relevance, work is underrepresented in political philosophy. The subject tends to be entirely left to economists and sociologists. In this way, debates on social justice remain distant from real people’s lives. While many see in their work the central means for their self-development and selfrealization, work can also be a means of subordination, social exclusion, and exploitation. Many injustices in our society are perpetuated through work. This happens when people are arbitrarily excluded from certain positions; the less desired tasks are reserved for the leastadvantaged groups; workers are kept in relations of inferiority in the workplace, or they are confined to precarious life situations; it is denied that the work that people do is “work” at all, even if they create value and help meet social needs; and when status inequalities are reproduced through occupational segregation, or through free-riding on status- and classbiased hiring. Indeed, many oppressed groups are, one way or another, oppressed through work1. Work is a powerful means for reproducing social inequalities. Work is also a source of profit and of social wealth. It produces individual aspirations and frustrations, political demands, normative conflicts and social tensions. And it mediates our relationship with the world and with others. Most of the time, our occupations (or lack thereof) shape our personalities and social identities, for what others see in us is first and foremost the work that we do, or the fact that we don’t work – which may be simply because our work is not formally recognized. Work takes up most of our time. Many invest all of their lives into their work, and others strive to get the job of their dreams; some see work as a necessary and hopefully avoidable evil, necessary just to pay the bills. Work is the means through which society is produced and reproduced; it is how individuals and groups meet their mutual needs. Thus, despite the central role played by work in the lives of individuals and in society, contemporary theories of justice seem to place work and the division of labor in a sort of ‘norm-free zone’, as if they do not deserve any normative attention, and lie outside the realms of justice.


Distributive Justice, Relational Equality, Exclusion, Income, Political Philosophy, Political Science, Subordination, Self Development, Self Realisation



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