“A corpse rules society – the corpse of labour.” – Manifesto Against Labour, Krisis-Group
Since the 1970s modern societies have been increasingly faced with social issues caused by a reliance on a form of life that technological development is making redundant: work. Competition drives companies to eject human beings from the labour process even while it relies on those people as consumers and producers of value. Equally, more human beings than ever before depend upon the capitalist production process for their survival, yet at this historical juncture it appears no longer to have need of them. It is this contradiction that some contemporary social critics have diagnosed as the basis of a crisis of civilisation through which we are currently living. The symptoms of this crisis are manifold and, one can argue, affect every aspect of society: privatisation, financialisation and economic crises, mass unemployment, the casualisation of labour and austerity programmes, regional conflict, the rise of political extremism, growing wealth inequality, individualisation, school shootings and the ever-growing number of people suffering from narcissistic personality disorders, to name but a few. Despite the sheer scale of problems that society currently faces, the dominant social discourse has rarely considered that a crisis of the very categories of capitalist society could be the source of the problem. Work, in particular, is central to modern notions of individual and collective identity, of morality and even of human nature. It is the means through which individuals are expected to realise themselves and to gain access to social wealth. It is perhaps for this reason that, while work is often seen as central to resolving the current crisis – either through calls for higher wages and the right to work or through attacks on immigrants and the unemployed – it is rarely seen as the problem in itself. The aim of this conference is therefore to ask what might a critique of work usefully offer us in addressing contemporary social issues and, if one will allow it, the possibility of a greater crisis of modern civilisation.
Contributors might consider:
- What kinds of critique of work are necessary, on the basis of what criteria and in the name of what alternatives?
- What hampers such a critique and how can we remove, go around or through these barriers?
- What critical theories can usefully contribute to a contemporary critique of work?
- How can contemporary social movements benefit from a critique of work?
- How might a theoretical critique of work manifest itself practically and how might critiques of work in practice inform theoretical critiques?
- What lessons can we learn from historical and contemporary social movements against work?
- What might a critique of work tell us about the political, economic and psychological forms and changes that society is currently experiencing?
- What are particularly unexamined aspects of the critique of work that need addressing?
- How widespread and persistent are critiques of work in contemporary social movements and what kinds of critique of work have they developed?
- What useful relationship might the critique of work have with critiques of the state, patriarchy, politics and other social forms?
- What alternatives to work still exist, have existed and might exist?
Confirmed keynote speakers will be: Anselm Jappe (author of Guy Debord, Les Aventures de la marchandise, Crédit à mort) and Norbert Trenkle (author of Die Große Entwertung, Dead Men Working). Both of our keynotes are members of the wertkritik, or “critique of value”, school of Marxian critique.
Abstracts of 350 words, with a small bio, should be sent to Dr Alastair Hemmens (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 20 February 2015. The conference itself will take place at Cardiff University, Wales, on 10 July 2015.
This research is funded by the Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship: Dr Alastair Hemmens, “‘Ne travaillez jamais’: The Critique of Work in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century French Thought, from Charles Fourier to Guy Debord.”