"Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs"
David Graeber?s ?bullshit jobs theory? has generated a great deal of academic and public interest. This theory holds that a large and rapidly increasing number of workers are undertaking jobs that they themselves recognise as being useless and of no social value. Despite generating clear testable hypotheses, this theory is not based on robust empirical research. We, therefore, use representative data from the EU to test five of its core hypotheses. Although we find that the perception of doing useless work is strongly associated with poor wellbeing, our findings contradict the main propositions of Graeber?s theory. The proportion of employees describing their jobs as useless is low and declining and bears little relationship to Graeber?s predictions. Marx?s concept of alienation and a ?Work Relations? approach provide inspiration for an alternative account that highlights poor management and toxic workplace environments in explaining why workers perceive paid work as useless.
... the empirical data do not support any of Graeber’s hypotheses. Therefore, the BS jobs theory must be rejected. Not only do our findings offer no support to this theory, they are often the exact opposite of what Graeber predicts. In particular, the proportion of workers who believe their paid work is not useful is declining rather than growing rapidly, and workers in professions connected to finance and with university degrees are less likely to feel their work is useless than many manual workers. (p.20)
KeywordsAlienation, Marx, Bullshit Jobs, Graeber, Weber, Paid Work, Useless Work, Meaningless Work, Wellbeing
ThemesBullshit Jobs, Alienation, Capitalism
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