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

Our findings demonstrate that while Graeber’s (2018) specific account of BS jobs and managerial feudalism cannot be empirically sustained, his work has uncovered an important and largely unresearched social ill. The scale of the problem is far from that predicted by Graeber’s theory. Nevertheless, millions of European workers suffer from work which they feel is not useful. Moreover, this experience is strongly associated with poor wellbeing. We, therefore, finish our analyses with our own tentative explanation, inspired by Marx’s writings on alienation, for why people think their job is useless. (p.3)


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


Bullshit Jobs, Alienation, Capitalism

Links to Reference



How to contribute.