The Concept of Labor: Marx and His Critics

Science and Society 71 (4):431 - 454 (2007)
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Marx conceives of labor as form-giving activity. This is criticized for presupposing a "productivist" model of labor which regards work that creates a material product — craft or industrial work — as the paradigm for all work (Habermas, Benton, Arendt). Many traditional kinds of work do not seem to fit this picture, and new "immaterial" forms of labor (computer work, service work, etc.) have developed in postindus trial society which, it is argued, necessitate a fundamental revision of Marx's approach (Hardt and Negri). Marx's theory, however, must be understood in the context of Hegel's philosophy. In that light, the view that Marx has a "productivist" model of labor is mistaken. The concept of "immaterial" labor is unsound, and Marx's ideas continue to provide an illuminating framework for understanding work in modern society



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Sean Sayers
University of Kent

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