For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Transformation and the Satisfaction of Work"

by Sanchez, A (2020)


This article suggests a new conceptual framework for understanding why some types of work are experienced in more satisfying ways than others. The analysis is based on research in an Indian scrap metal yard, where work entails disassembling things that other people no longer want. In spite of the demanding conditions of the labor and the social stigma attached to it, employees express satisfaction with the work process. This observation raises questions about theories of labor, which see satisfaction as arising from work that is creative, skilled, and task-based. The article argues that transformation is a social process that should be used as the primary analytic for explaining work satisfaction. Theories of creativity, skill, and task are secondary analytics that describe subsets of transformative action.

Key Passage

A long intellectual ancestry suggests that human beings possess an innate, creative urge to bring things into being through task-based, skilled work. This assumption is currently expressed most clearly in the work of Richard Sennett and Tim Ingold. Beyond the field of craft studies, the same assumption dominates philosophical understandings of the human experience of work as creative and instrumental ‘action’. Although Hannah Arendt proposes a distinction between work and action (the latter describing the transformative capacity to effect change upon the world), her understanding of the human condition is nonetheless rooted in the Roman conceptualization of Homo faber, which stresses the significance of acts of building and creation to this process. Many tasks are satisfying to the extent that they provide their participants with feelings of contentment, identification, and the expression of agency. Artistic and artisanal work often falls within this remit. However, our understanding of such tasks is limited by the assumption that they are satisfying primarily because they bring a creation into being. (p.74)


Skill, Satisfaction, Creativity, Transformitivity, Rhythm, Heidegger


Links to Reference



How to contribute.