For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Will we work in twenty-first century capitalism? A critique of the fourth industrial revolution literature"

by Morgan, Jamie (2019)


The fourth industrial revolution has become a prominent concept and imminent technological change a major issue. Facets are everyone?s concern but currently no one?s ultimate responsibility (perhaps a little like financial stability before the global financial crisis). In this paper, we argue that the future is being shaped now by the way the fourth industrial revolution is being positioned. Whilst no one has set out to argue for or defend technological determinism, anxiety combined with passivity and complacency are being produced in the context of a quasi-determinism. The contingent quantification of the future with regard to the potential for job displacement provides an influential source of authority for this position. A background narrative of ?the future is coming, so you better get used to it? is being disseminated. This favours a capitalism that may ?deny work to the many? perspective rather than a more fundamental rethink that encompasses change that may liberate the many from work. This, in turn, positions workers and responsibility for future employment, reducing the urgency of calls for wider societal preparation. Public understanding and policy are thus affected and along with them the future of work.

Key Passage

At root, Keynes highlights but does not resolve a tension based on two different framings of ‘need’. The need to interact, work and create as self-expression may be intrinsic to what it is to be human, but this is not the same as the need to earn a wage income in order to survive within a division of labour that operates according to disciplining principles or mechanisms. In this latter sense, labour is compelled and profit and accumulation drive the capitalist system. Historically, there is no simple relation where greater use of technology and higher productivity have continuously reduced hours worked. Over the long term there has been conflict between social and political movements that create individual and collective employment rights, terms and conditions and the most primitive Jamie Morgan: Will we work in twenty-first century capitalism? 379 drive of firms to dominate markets and increase profits through exploitation. Critique of zero-hour contracts and the ambiguous work status of ‘employees’ of digital platforms such as Uber merely represent the latest version of this. Moreover, in so far as our subject is transformations, there is fundamental disjuncture between a socio-economic system premised on wage labour and one that becomes other than this. (p.379)


Post-Work, The Future Of Work, Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Automation, Technology, The Future Of Work, Production, Post-Work


Technology, Employment, Fourth Industrial Revolution, Automation

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