For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Occupation and basic income through the lens of Arendt’s vita activa"

by Jansson, Inger (2020)


There is a debate about the meaning and importance of paid work for individuals as well as for society. On the one hand, paid work is considered the only way to secure general welfare. On the other hand, the Jobs Strategy urged by the OECD as the only possible model for achieving welfare is questioned and challenged through the idea of basic income. While basic income is frequently discussed within other disciplines, it is scarcely raised within occupational science, despite its obvious relevance. In this article, the significance of paid work and the possible consequences of introducing basic income are raised. Paid work may have healthy effects, but for many people worldwide dependence on paid work for basic security implies unhealthy, hazardous, and unsecure circumstances. Basic income may have a substantial impact on people’s occupational patterns as well as their experiences of occupational meaning. Three underlying rationales for introducing basic income can be traced: i) abolish a bureaucratic payment transfer system and maintain consumption, ii) diminish poverty and enhance a selfdetermined life, and iii) deepen democratization. These three rationales are discussed through the lens of Arendt’s vita activa: labor, work and action. Rationales underlying claims for basic income have substantially different underlying ideologies and are therefore important to scrutinize. Rationales mainly building on maintaining consumption imply a risk that people are reduced to homo consumens and denizens. Developing all modalities creates opportunities for occupational justice as well as inclusion and citizenship.

Key Passage

Unemployment and insecure and vulnerable employment are global problems that lead to occupational injustice. Basic income is a frequently discussed issue. However, the reasons underlying claims for basic income have substantially different underlying ideologies. It is therefore important to scrutinize them when considering access to meaningful and developing occupations. If all aspects of human occupation are not considered, there is a risk that some people may be reduced to homo consumens and denizens. Taking account of all modalities in vita activa: labor, work and action, creates opportunities for enhanced occupational participation and deepened citizenship, in the sense that people participate not only in the labor modality but in all modalities. (p.135)


Arendt, Basic Income, Vita Activa, Welfare, State Welfare, Basic Security, Occupational Patterns


On Arendt

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