What's wrong with work? Alienation, labour, and meaning

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: School of Philosophy and Art History


The majority of adults spend much of their lives engaged in some form of remunerative activity which they and others conceptualise as 'work'. In spite of this, the topic of work remains under-theorised in political philosophy, something this project will begin to rectify. To do this I focus on three issues: i) how work has been understood, ii) what might be wrong with work, and iii) how we could solve problems with work. I begin by assessing the different ways in which work has been understood, then turn to its treatment within contemporary political philosophy - particularly by Rawlsians, republicans, and feminists. To understand what might make work as it currently exists generally miserable rather than only problematic in marginal cases, I reinterpret the concept of alienation and use it as a framework to diagnose problems with work. After assessing the emancipatory potential of the solutions offered by contemporary and historical critics of work, I suggest new ways to make work less miserable.

Schedule of work

Section 1: How has work been understood? (Oct 2017 - Oct 18)
Aims: I am halfway through my first year of doctoral research
- by the end of this year I will have completed an opening chapter analysing the different ways in which work has been understood within political philosophy.

Section 2: What's wrong with work? (Oct 18 - Oct 19)
Aims: second chapter involving critical assessment of discussions of work in contemporary political philosophy, third chapter reconstructing and reinterpreting alienation, fourth chapter analysing work in light of this reconstruction.

Section 3: Solving work's problems (Oct 19 onwards)
Aims: fifth chapter analysing and critically assessing existing strategies to reduce the harms of work, final chapter on alternative strategies to reduce or end problems with work.


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