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"We cannot understand work apart from society and historical change."

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Introduction

2001HUM International Change and the Social World Assessment Item 1: Essay "We cannot understand work apart from society and historical change." This purpose of this essay is to outline the stark contrasts between traditional, pre-industrial and industrial societies to work. It will show how work is inexorably interconnected with society and how historical change has led to our understanding of work today. In traditional societies, such as those of the pre-colonial, Australian Aboriginals, there was no concept of money, or work for either profit or accumulation. (Reynolds: 1981) They lived their lives as survival dictated. There was no wage-labour, no separation of work from non-work (Reynolds: 1981) and no concept of time or work, presumably because these two concepts are so closely related. (Thompson: 1967) In traditional Orokaivan society, there was not even a generic term for work. (Schwimmer: 1980) Similarly, there was also no equivalent to the word leisure, as leisure's meaning is derived from 'time off' from work. (Study Guide: 2003) Industrial societies are just the opposite, with a major emphasis on surplus production, profits and time and work. There is wage-labour, a generic word for work and a clear segregation of work from non-work. In fact, it is by these three things that humans define themselves in industrial societies. ...read more.

Middle

What's more, in traditional societies these 'work' tasks were usually carried out on a needs-only basis. (Reynolds: 1981) This includes the needs of society (i.e., neighbours, friends, kin) with whom all spoils obtained would be shared. In early colonial Australia one observer stated: "The value of economic incentives was further undermined by the reciprocity and egalitarianism of Aboriginal society. Increased wages awarded for improved efficiency were immediately shared with kin whether they were employed or not. 'It is difficult... for Aborigines to understand individualism,' stated another." (Reynolds: 1981) Marx believed that it was the advent of Capitalism during the Industrial Revolution that changed collective attitudes and ideas about work forever. In traditional societies, Marx defined work as "those activities necessary not only for the provision of individual needs of all members of society, including non-labourers, but also for the maintenance of production and society" (Study Guide: 2003). Conversely, a Marxist definition of a Capitalist is "someone who earns from the surplus value of others. I.e., business owners who use the labour of others to make a profit" (Murray: 2003). From the industrial society emerged Capitalists, who invested their resources in order to increase them. The context of work being necessary for providing "individual needs" was changed forever, as Capitalists bought up the means of production, leaving non-capitalists with only one way of maintaining their survival and quality of life: selling their labour power. ...read more.

Conclusion

What they see as their role in society - to sell labour to capitalists - defines them. These people only understand work in this way - pre-industrial and traditional work attitudes are such a vast departure from modern industrial society, that their concepts of work cannot even be imagined to exist today. And though labour unions may spend a lot of time attempting to improve the conditions of their work, the 'labourer is what I am' concept has become so ingrained, these people are rarely seen attempting to become capitalists themselves. They want more money, yes, but not by exploiting the labour of others - that is their role. In conclusion, it becomes clear that we cannot understand work apart from society and historical change. Traditional societies, do not understand the Industrial concept of 'work'; they do what needs to be done to both sustain and fulfil them. Traditional societies measure time in a different fashion also, as they base their 'time' around seasonal changes. The current understanding of work has come about through historical changes taking place from 1760 onwards, roughly culminating in two major shifts: the industrial revolution and the emergence of Capitalism. From these came prevailing ideas that proclaim the importance and equivalence of time and money, shaping society as we see it today. ...read more.

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