Work (social sciences)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Work is a specific form of activity that is specific and socially supported by institutions ( customs ) , with which people have tried to survive in their environment since they became human .

On the anthropology of "work"

It is already a matter of dispute whether targeted physical exertion by animals (for example, instinctively building nests or pulling a plow) can be called “work”. The philosophical anthropology comes mainly from the fact that "work" only in animal-human transition box appears (see. Eg Friedrich Engels ' share of the work on the incarnation of the monkey , MEW 20). It is mostly assumed that the results of human work (as " objects ") show the person himself as in a mirror, so that he becomes powerful in the face of them of self-confidence . However, this could also be brought about by other human activities, so that “work” in its original forms is difficult to separate from other human survival strategies such as play or art . Since prehistory (according to Karl Bücher ) a basic connection between work and rhythm can be assumed (cf. the work song ).

According to numerous studies, hunters and gatherers had more free time compared to modern workers. See : Section “Everyday Life and Life Expectancy” in the “Hunters and Gatherers” article .

Attitude to work: cultural differences

The perception of which activities are regarded as work and what attitude people have towards them are culturally very different and are subject to constant social change .

In industrialized cultures, work and occupation have a high priority, since the market-based economic system and the desired progress depend on employees who are willing to perform. That was not always the case: before the industrial revolution , the majority of the people lived from an autonomous subsistence economy . This then changed in a short time to a highly regulated and hierarchically organized world of work, which required a considerably greater amount of time from the workers than self-sufficiency . During this time, the work was assessed as "suffering and hardship". Since then, the time and physical stress, remuneration and the legal position of employees have improved continuously. On the other hand, much more flexibility is expected today with regard to further training (up to retraining), jobs and times. In the West today, work is often seen as a "necessary evil", which, however, guarantees rank and reputation and, under certain circumstances, can become a path to self-realization . The ongoing change leads to a constant new examination of the importance of work.

On the other hand, there are societies in which people who live off wage labor (similar to what happened during the industrial revolution in the West) have little respect and are reluctant to perform because wages are low and working hours determine a large part of the daily routine. In countries where the population still lives largely autonomously from traditional forms of subsistence , wage labor is only valued, as its conditions offer the individual far fewer opportunities (and sometimes more leisure time) than the independent farmer or hunter. This also applies where reciprocity (mutual, unpaid help within a local community ) plays a bigger role than the money economy. Self-determined work is valued much more highly here: it is often not conceptually differentiated from leisure time and is not considered a laborious struggle for survival, but rather a "meaningful life's work". For some nature-loving ethnic groups , traditional work is a religious act that maintains the bond between people, ancestors and the environment. Since this deep meaning is lacking in wage labor, there is often a lack of sufficient motivation to work. Western employers perceive this as laziness or a lack of willingness to develop or even to be backward. This is especially true for strictly egalitarian societies, in which all work is viewed negatively because it is equated with greed, selfish striving or wealth at the expense of others.

Word history

The word work is of common Germanic origin ( * arbējiðiz , got. Arbaiþs ); the etymology is uncertain; possibly related to indoeurop. * orbh- "orphaned", " orphan ", "a child who is indebted to heavy physical activity" (cf. inheritance ); possibly also related to aslaw. robota (" bondage ", " slavery ", see robots ).

In Old and Middle High German , the word meanings “Mühsal”, “Exertion”, “Not” predominate; literally still today effort and work (cf. Psalm 90, Latin labor et dolor ).

The French word travail has a similar, even more extreme word history behind it: it is related to an early medieval instrument of torture.

The Italian lavoro and English labor (American laboratory ) go back to the Latin laboratory , which also primarily means "effort".

Many idioms are associated with it. So was hard physical work ahead of hard labor respectively, and a pig work uncomfortable a lot of work: Anyone familiar with the work and not be suppressed | he's crazy.


The historiography of work only began to emerge in the 20th century (first in France, England and the USA). An early exception among German historians was Karl Lamprecht (1856–1915). A more recent book is by Arne Eggebrecht and others.

History of theory


Aristocratic authors such as Xenophon , Plato , Aristotle and Cicero belittled most of the daily work (artisans, farmers, merchants). They considered it (especially physical work) as a sign of bondage. Slaves ( dúloi ) and artisans ( bániformi ) were “subject to necessity” and could only satisfy their needs through this work, which was understood as “unfree”. Intellectual work was reserved for the scholé (pronounced s | cholé ), which describes something like “creative leisure ”, from which the German word school comes.

Hard work:
" Treidler on the Volga "
(Бурлаки на Волге)
Ilja Repin 1870–1873

middle Ages

In Europe - especially in agriculture - forms of unfree work by men and women, including children and the elderly, remained for a long time ( Fron , Lasswirtschaft ), the longest in the Russian Empire ; in the German Reich their last remnant (the clod-relatedness in the two Mecklenburgs) was not removed until the November Revolution of 1918 . Even today there are different manifestations of unfree work in large parts of the world, from compulsory work to work slavery and forced labor .

Road repair workers

A positive evaluation of work as “productive activity to satisfy one's own needs or those of others” was applied in chivalry and mysticism. Through the Reformation and the Enlightenment, it came to the fore: A new view of work as a moral value and profession ( understood as a vocation ) of man in the world was developed by Martin Luther with his teaching on the general priesthood . In Calvinism, non-work was even more sharply rejected (see also: Protestant ethics ) .

Modern times

In the early stages of the Enlightenment, work was declared to be a natural human right ( Jean-Jacques Rousseau ). This criticized the feudalist principle of legitimation . Property arises only through work; nobody has a God-given right to property. Goods that are not created by human labor are common property.

Adam Smith distinguishes productive and unproductive work . He calls the work productive work the result of which is a salable product. This includes not only the actual value creation process (for the blacksmith : the forging process itself), but also all work that indirectly contributes to the perfection of the good (for the blacksmith: maintaining the embers, caring for the hammer and anvil). On the other hand, work that does not result in a salable product is unproductive (for example maternal housework ). Other work is not useless from this point of view, since it is necessary to be able to do productive work, and is now referred to as reproductive (e.g. civil servants , administrators , soldiers ).

The early socialist Charles Fourier proclaimed a right to work in 1808 .

In German philosophy ( Immanuel Kant , Johann Gottfried Herder , Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Johann Gottlieb Fichte ) work is declared a condition of existence and a moral duty. In his anthropology , however, Kant pragmatically conceded (1798, §87) that laziness had a protective function: “ Because nature has also wisely placed the disgust for prolonged work in some subject's instinct, which is beneficial for both him and others: because this could not tolerate long or often repetitive exertion of strength without exhaustion, but required certain pauses for relaxation. "

After Karl Marx ' value theory the "manpower" is capable as the sole force the capital ((as a collection of coagulated work) to increase value to accumulate ). It inevitably does this under capitalism .

In practice, this reflects the fact that in the phase of industrialization, free labor obviously became a commodity and predominantly took on the gloomy features of wage labor at the time. For example in the form of child labor , the poor workers (the "impoverishment"), work accidents and diseases, the oppressive piece work - all these are characteristics of the generally perceived " social question "

The consequences of this have been characterized as " alienation " since Hegel : the worker has only the cash wage relationship for his own work product, but also for the company he works for, and can therefore no longer be proud of it - in this' In any case, Spiegel 'he no longer recognizes himself.

For Ernst Jünger , work was not just activity, but the expression of a “special being that seeks to fulfill its space, its time, its regularity” (“ Der Arbeiter ”). Therefore work does not know any antithesis apart from itself. The opposite of work is not rest or leisure, since there is no state that cannot be understood as work.

In addition to the “productive” quality of work, its “ destructive ” side has recently been emphasized ( Lars Clausen ) : most noticeable as (hard, life-threatening) work of soldiers, but also in work that destroys oneself, others or the environment, the destructive has always been an essential part of everyone Job. (Unlike the "destructive activity", which can appear as vandalism every day and which had an organizational climax in the concentration camp .)

Work and advancement of technology

In a conversation with Hans Magnus Enzensberger in 1967, the sociologist Rudi Dutschke and the political scientist Bernd Rabehl said that technical progress could considerably reduce gainful employment in the future: “You have to consider that we will be able to reduce the working day to five hours modern production facilities, by eliminating the superfluous bureaucracy. The company becomes the center of political self-determination, of self-determination about one's own life. So there will be daily debates in the company, a collective will slowly emerge, a collective without anonymity, limited to two to three thousand people, who still have a direct relationship with one another. "

In the 1950s and 1960s, even in the Calvinist North American society, technical progress actually gave room to the idea that progress could lead to more leisure time. The creations of a colorful pop culture with their science fiction dreams, such as the animated series “ The Jetsons ”, in which technology-assisted lounging without moral concerns, could be portrayed as ideal as an ideal, gave testimony to the hopes .

In view of globally different developments, however, it became clear that resting on the prosperity achieved in one region was seen as an opportunity to catch up economically in other regions. During that period, particularly in Japan, technical progress was seen primarily as a way of making great economic progress. To this day, a competition in which whoever brakes first loses limits the possibility of gaining more self-determined free time from technical and technological progress.

In addition, as early as 1956 with his growth model , Robert Solow coined the view in the economy that technological innovation primarily appeared as a multiplier of the factor work, thus creating an anchor in the dogma of the economy, which to this day the space of the conceivable versus possible alternatives effectively delimits. In today's world of work, technical progress creates new work, primarily and even with increasing speed, where it expands freedom. Where technology freed people from work even before the industrial age began, they often became outlawed rather than freer.

In Germany, the volume of work per capita decreased continuously by 30 percent between 1960 and 2010.

Work today

As before, paid work is not equated with work at all. Where work is still not a commodity today, two essential aspects must be emphasized:

  • Subsistence work, which is still dominant in many societies, is still the work that people do to produce their livelihood and thus ensure their survival (English equivalent: Labor ),
  • As self-production , creative work - noticeably in the arts - in all societies gives people the opportunity to develop themselves (to recognize themselves in it) (English equivalent: work ).

In the wealthy countries of the world (including Germany), gainful employment is becoming scarce. There is increasing flexibility , virtualization , automation and subjectification of work, and precarious work relationships are increasing . In terms of content, work is shifting more and more to the tertiary sector (services) and low-wage countries ( offshoring ), especially since youth and long-term unemployment are moving work out of the experience of many, despite its central character as a survival activity.

In poorer countries there are - in some cases - conditions that are comparable to those in the industrialization phase of Europe: child labor, low-wage work and a lack of social security are often found components of the world of work there.

System of employment relationships

Where work is done for others, the difference is still significant

  • between the (very diverse) forms of so-called 'unpaid' work, d. H. through many forms of moneyless social exchange - which occurred in around five million years - that links social actors with one another
  • and the (paid) gainful employment that has historically only occurred for a good three millennia in the form of goods or money .

A change in an activity from a free to a paid form is also referred to as commercialization .

Free work

The unpaid work so very historically includes many forms that exist today, but not always as a work to be considered.

Examples are:

Gainful employment

Gainful employment is understood to be work performed against payment (wages) as opposed to unpaid work (such as subsistence work , slave work , housework or voluntary work ).

Gainful employment is performed in an employment relationship ( wage work ) or in self-employed and, more recently, also in a pseudo-self-employed form.

Examples are:

German private law makes an analogous distinction between a work contract (success is owed) and service contract (service is owed).

Mixed forms

The mixed forms (also referred to as atypical work or atypical employment ) include numerous voluntary or statutory work that is low-paid. In part, the workers are legally obliged to carry out the activities in question, in part they feel ethically obliged to do so. The mixed forms also include those voluntary activities for which an expense allowance is paid that exceeds the actual expense.

Criticism of the work

As far as the central position of work in collective value systems is concerned, say critics of work, there is surprisingly little difference between forms of government and models of rule.

As a critic of the work, Paul Lafargue , author of the pamphlet Le droit à la paresse (' The right to be lazy '; 1883), was an outsider in the old labor movement . Lafargue saw himself as a revolutionary socialist and accordingly he assessed the capitalist work ethic . “Capitalist morality, a pathetic copy of Christian morality, puts a curse on the flesh of the worker: its ideal is to reduce the needs of the producer to the minimum, to stifle his pleasures and passions and to make him the role of a machine condemn, from which one can work at will without rest and without thanks. ”Lafargues Manifesto was published in 1887 in German. Lafargue quoted Lessing :

"Let us be lazy in all things,
just don't be lazy to love 'and wine'
just don't be lazy to be lazy."

The radical critics of work reject the compulsion to work - for the rich and the poor. This distinguishes them from socialists, who are outraged by the idleness of the rich and demand that everyone must work. The background to the rejection of compulsory work is the real possibility of stopping work. Lafargue already said that 3 hours of work should be enough. Abolition of labor does not mean, however, only a reduction in working hours through automation and the abolition of the production of goods which are only made for the sake of profit.

Under capitalist conditions, the unemployed as well as the employees and also those who are being prepared for the so-called professional life are equally subject to the system of wage labor. Even those who have free time cannot freely use it, be it because others, with whom one would like to do something together, have to work, or because the entire environment is shaped by commercial constraints. Abandonment of work means that necessary activities, such as caring for frail people, continue to take on a different character if they are carried out in a different non-hierarchical context. According to the critics of work, it is not to be expected that people would simply do nothing without being forced to work and starve to death, since they already voluntarily work together constructively under capitalist conditions.

The tradition of rejection of work was revived by a group of young people in Paris after World War II. Guy Debord was among them . The slogan “Ne travaillez jamais” ('Never work') then returned in May 1968 in Paris. The rejection of work also played a central role in Italy in the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1985, the post-anarchist Bob Black called on the world's proletarians to relax, as no one should ever work. Bob Black sees himself as an anti- Marxist and post-intellectual (individual) anarchist . He calls for all workplaces to be redesigned so that they are like a game . He thinks it is strange that some struggle in the field while others relax in their free time , which is also just the externally determined and well-organized counterpart to work, with gardening . In addition to this point (s), the character of the external determination of work is central to his criticism, whether in state socialism or in capitalism . Following Michel Foucault , he criticizes disciplining and the disciplinary society and emphasizes the central role of work in disciplining: prisons and factories were created at the same time, schools are there to practice performance thoughts and willingness and obedience, and there is “more freedom in any somewhat de-Stalinized dictatorship than in an ordinary American workplace ”. Gustav Landauer had already made a similar criticism . He too wanted to redesign the working day in a similar way.

One can hardly speak of a German tradition of work criticism. Since the 1990s, however, the critical group Krisis has endeavored to renew its critique of work. She published an anti-labor manifesto . The crisis sees itself as post-Marxist, or rather distinguishes itself from traditional Marxism.

The current critique of work is the critique of identification with work as a central element of male identity .

Reports, field research and presentation of the work in literature

In the field of field research, a study by the Austrian Research Institute for Business Psychology became famous. It was called Die Arbeitslosen von Marienthal (1933) and deals with the consequences of sudden unemployment for a village community.

Illustrations and descriptions of the daily work at the bottom of the Company are within the fiction about in the Austrian authors Franz Innerhofer and Gernot Wolfgruber , the German Hans Dieter Baroth and George Orwell ( Down and Out in Paris and London ).

See also



  • Sven Rahner: Architects of work: positions, designs, controversies. edition Körber Foundation, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-89684-156-8 .
  • Andrea Komlosy : work. A global historical perspective. 13th to 21st century. Promedia, Vienna 2014, ISBN 978-3-85371-369-3 .
  • Bob Black: The abolition of work. Löhrbach 2003, ISBN 3-922708-04-8
  • Axel Braig & Ulrich Renz : The art of working less. Fischer, Frankfurt 2003.
  • Harry Braverman : Working in the modern production process. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main et al. 1977, ISBN 3-593-32225-0 .
  • Karl books : work and rhythm. Hirzel, Leipzig 1904.
  • Robert Castel : Les métamorphoses de la question sociale, une chronique du salariat. 1995.
    • German: The metamorphoses of the social question: a chronicle of wage labor. Univ.-Verlag Konstanz, Konstanz 2000.
  • Lars Clausen : Productive work, destructive work. Verlag Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1988, ISBN 3-11-011814-9 .
  • Angelika Ebbinghaus: Workers and ergonomics. On the creation of the "Scientific Management". Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1984, ISBN 3-531-11667-3 .
  • Peter Fleissner: Technology and the world of work in Austria. ÖGB-Verlag, 1987, ISBN 3-7035-0326-2 .
  • Reimer Gronemeyer (ed.): The lazy negro. From the white crusade against black idleness. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1991, ISBN 3-499-13071-8 .
  • Reinhard P. Gruber : Never again work. Schivkov's messages from the other life. ISBN 3-7017-0606-9 .
  • Simon Head: The New Ruthless Economy. Work and Power in the Digital Age. Oxford UP, 2005, ISBN 0-19-517983-8 .
  • IG Metall : Handbook »Good Work«. 2007, ISBN 978-3-89965-255-0 .
  • Wulf D. Hund : Keyword work: From penniless to travail attractif . Distel Verlag, Heilbronn 1990, ISBN 3-923208-21-9 .
  • Ernst Jünger : The worker. Rule and form . 1932.
  • Paul Lafargue : The right to be lazy . Refutation of the right to work from 1848. 5th edition. Nevertheless publisher, Grafenau 2004, ISBN 3-931786-03-X .
  • Severin Müller: Phenomenology and philosophical theory of work . Volume I: Living world - nature - sensuality. Karl Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1992, ISBN 3-495-47731-4 ; Volume II: Rationality - World - Reason. Karl Alber, Freiburg / Munich 1994, ISBN 3-495-47732-2 .
  • David F. Noble : Machine Striker or Humans' Complicated Relationships with their Machines. Interaction-Verlag, Berlin 1986, ISBN 3-924709-00-9 .
  • Erich Ribolits: The work up? Vocational pedagogical pamphlet against the total purification of man in post-Fordism. Profil, Munich / Vienna 1995, ISBN 3-89019-362-5 .
  • Holger Schatz: work as rule. The crisis of the achievement principle and its neoliberal reconstruction . 2004, ISBN 3-89771-429-9 .
  • Helmuth Schneider among others: History of work. From ancient Egypt to the present. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 1980, ISBN 3-462-01382-3 .
  • Eberhard Straub : About doing nothing. Living in a world without work. wjs-Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-937989-02-1 .
  • Wieland Jäger and Kurt Röttgers (eds.): Meaning of work. Sociological and economic philosophical considerations , VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2008.
  • Susanne Hartard , Axel Schaffer, Carsten Stahmer (eds.): The half-day society. Concrete utopia for a sustainable society. Nomos Verlag, Baden-Baden 2006, ISBN 3-8329-2245-8 .
  • Manfred Füllsack: Work. (UTB series NR3235). 2009, ISBN 978-3-8252-3235-1 .
  • S. Kinkel, M. Friedewald, B. Hüsing and others: Working in the future: structures and trends in industrial work. (Studies by the Office for Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag, 27). Edition Sigma, Berlin 2008.
  • Heinz-J. Bontrup: labor and capital. Economic policy inventory and alternatives. In: Johannes Rehm, Hans G. Ulrich (Ed.): Human right to work? Social ethical perspectives. Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-17-020823-0 .

Magazines and yearbooks

  • Archive for the history of resistance and work.
  • Labor history. Routledge.

Web links

Wiktionary: work  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Labor  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikiquote: Work  - Quotes



  1. " Tripaliare originally meant to torture someone on the trepalium ; it was first mentioned in the 6th century as an impaling instrument consisting of three wooden sticks. In the 12th century the word in both French and Spanish meant a painful experience, the one Human beings have to endure; it was only in the 16th century that it became possible to use the verb trabajar at work as synonymous with laborar and sudar "- Ivan Illich : self-limitation. A Political Critique of Technology ; Translation: Ylva Eriksson Cake Book; Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-39267-9 , p. 54 (original title: Tools for Conviviality. Harper and Row, New York 1973)

Individual evidence

  1. Sabine Eylert, Ursula Bertels, Ursula Tewes (Ed.): From work and people. Surprising insights into the working life of foreign cultures. Waxmann, Münster, New York 2000; Introduction by Christiana Lütges, pp. 13–22, especially 16–18.
  2. Arne Eggebrecht , Jens Flemming, Gert Meyer, Achatz von Müller , Alfred Oppolzer , Akoš Paulinyi , Helmuth Schneider : History of work. From ancient Egypt to the present. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 1980.
  3. Xenophon: Oikonomikós 4,2
  4. Aristotle: Politics 1328 b 37 ff.
  5. De officiis 1,150
  6. The current employment optimism from a historical perspective . November 3, 2010.
  7. Atlas of Work. Atypical work - end of normalcy (pages 20–21). Joint project of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB) and the Hans Böckler Foundation (HBS), May 4, 2018, accessed on May 12, 2018 .
  8. Atypical employment as a distinction from normal employment., accessed on May 12, 2018 .
  9. Berndt Keller, Hartmut Seifert: Atypical employment relationships: forms, distribution, social consequences., June 15, 2009, accessed on May 12, 2018 .
  10. ^ Robert Paul Stephan, Wolfgang Ludwig-Mayerhofer: Atypical employment., 2014, accessed on May 12, 2018 .
  11. The Abolition of Labor . Theory magazine website .
  12. ^ Gustav Landauer - The working day (May 1, 1912) .
  13. Manifesto Against Labor .
  14. Added value and recovery . In: Krisis . ( [accessed July 26, 2017]).
  15. From the mere worker to the complete man . In: Krisis . ( [accessed July 26, 2017]).