For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Notes on the Meaning of Work: Labor, Work, and Action in the 21st Century"

by Fayard, Anne-Laure (2021)


There is growing evidence that the nature of work is evolving, with the emergence of new forms such as open innovation and crowdsourcing, freelancing and the gig economy and artificial intelligence, and robotics. Debates about the consequences of these changes are flourishing. However, it seems that what work means for different protagonists varies. This essay proposes to explore how philosophers have thought about work to analyze recent empirical phenomena. It combines Hannah Arendt?s distinction between labor, work, and action with Nancy Harding?s distinction between labor and work to investigate activities that might or might not be described as work. It examines two technology-enabled platforms representative of the ?gig economy?: on-demand mobile workforce and crowdsourcing for innovation. More broadly, in this time of constant change, tracing conceptual boundaries between different human activities allows us to reveal the social and political implications of new activities described as work.

Key Passage

Going back to Arendt’s suggestion to “think what we are doing” , I propose to do just that to make sense of the changing nature of “work,” to study what we are doing. Considering whether the activities people engaged in are work or not will allow us to unpack the social and political implications of the emerging activities, new organizational arrangements, and sociotechnical practices they include. (p.217)


Arendt, Nancy Harding, Gig Economy, Mobile Workforce, Crowdsourcing, Meaningful Work, Freelancing


On Arendt, Gig Work, Capitalism

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