Synopses & Reviews
In The Problem with Work, Kathi Weeks boldly challenges the presupposition that work, or waged labor, is inherently a social and political good. While progressive political movements, including the Marxist and feminist movements, have fought for equal pay, better work conditions, and the recognition of unpaid work as a valued form of labor, even they have tended to accept work as a naturalized or inevitable activity. Weeks argues that in taking work as a given, we have “depoliticized” it, or removed it from the realm of political critique. Employment is now largely privatized, and work-based activism in the United States has atrophied. We have accepted waged work as the primary mechanism for income distribution, as an ethical obligation, and as a means of defining ourselves and others as social and political subjects. Taking up Marxist and feminist critiques, Weeks proposes a postwork society that would allow people to be productive and creative rather than relentlessly bound to the employment relation. Work, she contends, is a legitimate, even crucial, subject for political theory.
“Kathi Week’s excellent book shows us that the project to build a post-work society is a feminist project, one that understands that the real liberation of labor must be the liberation from labor.”—Antonio Negri, co-author Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth
“Less work or better work? Should alienated labor be a focus of political economic critique or is it more important to question the centrality of work to life and productivity to self-worth? Kathi Weeks builds a feminist political theory of work from these questions. The result is a provocative argument that not only sheds new light on second-wave feminism by putting the 1970s demand for wages for housework in dialogue with autonomist Marxism but reminds that tradition of its debts to feminist theory and activism.”—Lisa Disch, University of Michigan
“The Problem with Work is one of the most exciting and original works of social theory that I have read in a great many years. Kathi Weeks’s argument is daring and extremely well executed, and her book is remarkable for its clarity, compulsive readability, and insightful synthesis of critical social theories. This is a truly wonderful book.”—Judith Grant, author of Fundamental Feminism: Contesting the Core Concepts of Feminist Theory
“Kathi Weeks’s excellent book shows us that the project to build a postwork society is a feminist project, one that understands that the real liberation of labor must be the liberation from labor.”—Antonio Negri, author of The Labor of Job: The Biblical Text as a Parable of Human Labor
“Finally, a well-reasoned and critical treatise on the nature of work has appeared that grapples with the work ethic and wrestles it into submission.” - The Right to Be Lazy blog
“The Problem with Work . . . is bold for several reasons. Not the least of which is for its fundamental argument that work should be understood as a concern of political theory, that work is a matter of power and domination as much as it is productivity and economics. This academic provocation aside, Weeks’ book is bold in taking up the critique of work, in claiming anti-work politics. In doing so it breaks both with the dominant ideology that makes work a testament to one’s moral worth and with the center-left contestation of this ideology that demands more aggressive jobs programs to put people to work.”
“[T]his is well worth a read, as Weeks presents a set of imaginative and insightful ideas in a clear and thoroughly argued format.”
“Faced with the neoliberal fiat that market values now define what is valuable as such, and that now, more than ever, work is the sole aim for which we all must live, Kathi Weeks stares back without blinking and demands something different. She urges readers to insist on less work and more money, and to do so in a self-consciously militant, utopian register. Combining an imaginative critique of neoliberalism’s warp-drive work ethic with a subtle and badly needed recuperation of the utopian as a mode of political theory and action, The Problem with Work makes a vital contribution to feminist theory, Marxist theory, and the growing political-theoretical literature on time and temporality.”
“The Problem with Work ... raise[s] key issues for feminism, including the question of whether capitalism can serve the interests of women today and in the future... Th[is book] should be widely read, discussed, and debated...”
“[Weeks] convincingly shows how an imperative to be productive, at work, in the home, school and in life generally (’Five Top Tips for Productive Dating Profiles!’), is central to the way capitalism not only puts us to work but makes us want to be put to work. We think work is right and just and when we imagine another world, even a ‘post-revolutionary world’, we imagine a world of work. Weeks argues that we need to break the hold that work has on our imaginations.”
“There’s no better way to spend the summer months than by thinking about waged labor, which is why I’m currently reading The Problem with Work, an inventive examination of how seemingly reformist measures such as universal basic income and reduced workweeks can be used as stepping stones toward a world beyond the daily grind.”
“Fleming's analyses of work critically confront today’s capitalism, now well into its shift from old centers (western Europe, north America and Japan) to new, lower-wage centers (Asia, Latin America, Africa, etc.). The resulting precariousness, scarcity, and mindlessness of work imposed on the old centers is being covered with an ideological fetishization of work that this book well deconstructs.”
“Professor Fleming has established himself as the foremost critic of our generation on the pervasive and pernicious ideologies of business and management. In this, his latest contribution, he dismantles the work ethic and the compulsion of work that plagues all workers, waged and unwaged. This is a clarion call to action against the forces of work that would try to regulate and profit from our collective self-organization.”
Theoretical critique of work as the dominant discourse for understanding political, social, and economic justice.
The Problem with Work develops a Marxist feminist critique of the structures and ethics of work, as well as a perspective for imagining a life no longer subordinated to them.
Once, work was inextricably linked to survival and self-preservation: the farmer ploughed his land so that his family could eat. In contrast, today work has slowly morphed into a painful and meaningless ritual for many, colonizing almost every part of our day, endless and inescapable.
In The Mythology of Work, Peter Fleming examines how neoliberal society uses the ritual of workand the threat of its denialto maintain the late capitalist class order. Work becomes a universal reference point, devoid of any moral or political worth, transforming our society into a factory that never sleeps. Blending critical theory with recent accounts of job-related suicides, office-induced paranoia, fear of relaxation, managerial sadism, and cynical corporate social responsibility campaigns, Fleming paints a bleak picture of a society in which economic and emotional disasters greatly outweigh any professed benefits.
About the Author
is professor of business and society at Cass Business School, City University London. He is the author of Dead Man Working
and Contesting the Corporation
Table of Contents
Introduction. The Problem with Work 1
1. Mapping the Work Ethic 37
2. Marxism, Productivism, and the Refusal of Work 79
3. Working Demands: From Wages for Housework to Basic Income 113
4. "Hours for What We Will": Work, Family, and the Demand for Shorter Hours 151
5. The Future Is Now: Utopian Demands and the Temporalities of Hope 175
Epilogue. A Life beyond Work 227