For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Alienation Is Not ‘Bullshit’: An Empirical Critique of Graeber’s Theory of BS Jobs"

by Soffia, Magdalena; Wood, Alex J; Burchell, Brendan (2021)


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.

Key Passage

BS jobs are a rare phenomenon. Therefore, this article debunks Graeber’s (2018) claim that millions of workers are engaged in BS jobs of no social value and that the solution is that they be set free by a universal basic income. Instead, it suggests the need for unions that are willing and able to engage in what Umney and Coderre-LaPalme (2017) term ‘meaning of work conflicts’ so as to overturn those social relations in which people’s work is devalued by toxic workplace cultures that leave workers feeling their labour is pointless and of no use. (p.21)


Alienation, Marx, Bullshit Jobs, Graeber, Weber, Paid Work, Useless Work, Meaningless Work, Wellbeing


Bullshit Jobs, Alienation, Capitalism

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