In Defense of Shirking in Capitalist Firms: Worker Resistance vs. Managerial Power

Political Theory (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Shirking, the act of avoiding the demands of one’s job, is generally seen as unethical. Drawing on empirical evidence from the sociology of work, I develop a normative conception of shirking as a form of worker resistance against illegitimate managerial power. In doing so, I present a new approach to the political theory of the firm, which is more adversarial and agent-centered than available alternatives. It is more adversarial as it recognizes the political value of counterproductive and disruptive behavior in capitalist firms. It is more agent-centered because it theorizes the firm from the perspective of workers, asking what pro tanto reasons they have to shirk. I show that shirking under the structural domination of capitalism has diagnostic, agential, and epistemic values. The paper contributes to the wider methodological ambition to tailor political theorizing to the positionality of social actors, by shifting attention from the institutional design of the firm to the methods of worker resistance.

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Ugur Aytac
Utrecht University

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