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  • What‘s Work?


    Jörg Markowitsch

    What’s labour? What’s employment? And how have they changed over the centuries? Leading scholars from Europe, the US, China and Africa reflect on these and related questions in a six-part documentary by Gérard Mordillat and Bertrand Rothé, which makes for an outstanding podcast.

    Digging and using a spade properly needs to be learned. This was one of the most grounding expe­ri­en­ces that Serbian and Romanian seasonal workers taught me. For my 50th birthday, I gifted myself a trai­nee­ship in a hor­ti­cul­tu­ral enter­pri­se. While digging up several hundred hedge plants together, it became clear: these men not only know how to use the spade correctly so that the root bales don’t get damaged; they also know the right pace of work and the necessary breaks to get through the day and the working week without straining. I can’t thank them enough.

    “You have to work smoothly, monitor your movements. Only when you know the pickaxe well can you handle it properly. The ear­thwor­kers use it sparingly. Their movements are deli­be­ra­te and well-measured. It requires skill to handle the shovel without excessive effort and to sustain the same workload every day. (…) If the earth is good, slips nicely and sings on the shovel, there is, before fatigue sets in, at least one hour in the day when the body feels happy.” (own trans­la­ti­on) This is what the working-class writer George Navel wrote about ear­thwor­kers in his first work “Travaux” (1945).

    I owe this reference to Navel and this quote to Olivier Favereau, emeritus French labour economist. He sees in it an example that even the most menial work can bring happiness and satis­fac­tion at times, and he does not mean it cynically.  Favereau is one of 21 academics who reflect on work, labour, employ­ment, wages, capital and profit in the docu­men­ta­ry “Work, Wages, Profit” (2019) by Gérard Mordillat and Bertrand Rothé.

    The way the inter­views are edited together sti­mu­la­tes insights through contrasts. For example, one explains the origin of “tra­vail­ler” (to work) with reference to an instru­ment of torture, in contrast to simply “working” in English, while another sees it as the ultimate act of creation, since “tra­vail­ler” ori­gi­nal­ly also meant “to be in labour”, and in English it is still used that way. The majority of the reflec­tions and anecdotes  are extremely revealing and critical throughout. There is a lot of food for thought and ideas are turned upside down. For example, eco­no­mists rarely deny that the labour market is still a market of supply and demand.

    On the one hand, the docu­men­ta­ry is suitable as an intro­duc­tion to the work of Karl Marx, on the other hand it offers insights into con­tem­pora­ry economic, socio­lo­gi­cal and anthro­po­lo­gi­cal theories on work. But it is certainly also worthwhile for experts, as one gets to know excellent rese­ar­chers who have yet to be trans­la­ted into German or English. For example, the socio­lo­gist Danièle Linhart, who has been rese­ar­ching the role of work in society since the 1980s, or Frédéric Lordon, phi­lo­so­pher and economist at the Sorbonne, who is also con­si­de­red the intel­lec­tu­al head of the protest movement “Nuit debout”. In addition, there are also well-known names in the German-speaking world, such as David Graeber.

    The six parts, each lasting almost an hour, are composed exclu­si­ve­ly of inter­views with the rese­ar­chers against a black back­ground. This encou­ra­ges con­cen­tra­ti­on on the spoken word, but also tires the optic nerve. As a podcast, however, the docu­men­ta­ry works excel­lent­ly. So, well that you want to listen to some indi­vi­du­al accounts twice.

    A German and French version of “Arbeit, Lohn, Profit” (2019) can be seen and heard on Arte, YouTube and Archive.org.

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Linhart, Danièle (2015). La comédie humaine du travail. De la dés­hu­ma­ni­sa­ti­on tay­lo­ri­en­ne à la sur-huma­ni­sa­ti­on mana­gé­ria­le, Paris: Erès.
    Lordon, Frédéric (2014). Willing slaves of capital: Spinoza and Marx on desire. Verso Trade, 2014.
    Navel, George (1945), Travaux. Paris: Stock.

     

    'Travail, salaire, profit' (Arbeit. Lohn, Profit), 2019, France, Gérard Mordillat and Bertrand Rothé 

    Danièle Linhart, Soziologin, „Arbeit, Lohn, Profit“ (2019), Filmstil

    Frédéric Lordon, Ökonom und Philosoph, „Arbeit, Lohn, Profit“ (2019), Filmstil

    Iranian Railway Worker

    Tags

    What‘s Work?

    Jörg Markowitsch

    What’s labour? What’s employment? And how have they changed over the centuries? Leading scholars from Europe, the US, China and Africa reflect on these and related questions in a six-part documentary by Gérard Mordillat and Bertrand Rothé, which makes for an outstanding podcast.

    Digging and using a spade properly needs to be learned. This was one of the most grounding expe­ri­en­ces that Serbian and Romanian seasonal workers taught me. For my 50th birthday, I gifted myself a trai­nee­ship in a hor­ti­cul­tu­ral enter­pri­se. While digging up several hundred hedge plants together, it became clear: these men not only know how to use the spade correctly so that the root bales don’t get damaged; they also know the right pace of work and the necessary breaks to get through the day and the working week without straining. I can’t thank them enough.

    “You have to work smoothly, monitor your movements. Only when you know the pickaxe well can you handle it properly. The ear­thwor­kers use it sparingly. Their movements are deli­be­ra­te and well-measured. It requires skill to handle the shovel without excessive effort and to sustain the same workload every day. (…) If the earth is good, slips nicely and sings on the shovel, there is, before fatigue sets in, at least one hour in the day when the body feels happy.” (own trans­la­ti­on) This is what the working-class writer George Navel wrote about ear­thwor­kers in his first work “Travaux” (1945).

    I owe this reference to Navel and this quote to Olivier Favereau, emeritus French labour economist. He sees in it an example that even the most menial work can bring happiness and satis­fac­tion at times, and he does not mean it cynically.  Favereau is one of 21 academics who reflect on work, labour, employ­ment, wages, capital and profit in the docu­men­ta­ry “Work, Wages, Profit” (2019) by Gérard Mordillat and Bertrand Rothé.

    The way the inter­views are edited together sti­mu­la­tes insights through contrasts. For example, one explains the origin of “tra­vail­ler” (to work) with reference to an instru­ment of torture, in contrast to simply “working” in English, while another sees it as the ultimate act of creation, since “tra­vail­ler” ori­gi­nal­ly also meant “to be in labour”, and in English it is still used that way. The majority of the reflec­tions and anecdotes  are extremely revealing and critical throughout. There is a lot of food for thought and ideas are turned upside down. For example, eco­no­mists rarely deny that the labour market is still a market of supply and demand.

    On the one hand, the docu­men­ta­ry is suitable as an intro­duc­tion to the work of Karl Marx, on the other hand it offers insights into con­tem­pora­ry economic, socio­lo­gi­cal and anthro­po­lo­gi­cal theories on work. But it is certainly also worthwhile for experts, as one gets to know excellent rese­ar­chers who have yet to be trans­la­ted into German or English. For example, the socio­lo­gist Danièle Linhart, who has been rese­ar­ching the role of work in society since the 1980s, or Frédéric Lordon, phi­lo­so­pher and economist at the Sorbonne, who is also con­si­de­red the intel­lec­tu­al head of the protest movement “Nuit debout”. In addition, there are also well-known names in the German-speaking world, such as David Graeber.

    The six parts, each lasting almost an hour, are composed exclu­si­ve­ly of inter­views with the rese­ar­chers against a black back­ground. This encou­ra­ges con­cen­tra­ti­on on the spoken word, but also tires the optic nerve. As a podcast, however, the docu­men­ta­ry works excel­lent­ly. So, well that you want to listen to some indi­vi­du­al accounts twice.

    A German and French version of “Arbeit, Lohn, Profit” (2019) can be seen and heard on Arte, YouTube and Archive.org.

    Refe­ren­ces:
    Linhart, Danièle (2015). La comédie humaine du travail. De la dés­hu­ma­ni­sa­ti­on tay­lo­ri­en­ne à la sur-huma­ni­sa­ti­on mana­gé­ria­le, Paris: Erès.
    Lordon, Frédéric (2014). Willing slaves of capital: Spinoza and Marx on desire. Verso Trade, 2014.
    Navel, George (1945), Travaux. Paris: Stock.

     

    'Travail, salaire, profit' (Arbeit. Lohn, Profit), 2019, France, Gérard Mordillat and Bertrand Rothé

    Danièle Linhart, Soziologin, „Arbeit, Lohn, Profit“ (2019), Filmstil

    Frédéric Lordon, Ökonom und Philosoph, „Arbeit, Lohn, Profit“ (2019), Filmstil

    Iranian Railway Worker

    Tags


    The limits of our imagination of the future: men doing housework!

    The limits of our ima­gi­na­ti­on of the future: men doing housework!

    It is difficult to conceive the future as something open to objective analysis. The future is inevitably intangible. There is, however, one exception: the future of the past. "Past’s futures" such as those manifested in commercials of the 1950s and 1960s reveal many interesting things, for instance the lack of imagination of social change.

    The Future of Work: Science and Science Fiction

    The Future of Work: Science and Science Fiction

    Futurology has long since established itself as a scientific discipline. Why research should not be aversed to borrow from science fiction films becomes evident in the British miniseries Years and Years (2019) by Russell T. Davies.

    THE WALKING MAN

    THE WALKING MAN

    Work ennobles. Work makes life sweeter. Sayings like these apodictically inscribe the principle of work into people's consciousness as the right and good thing to do. When American TV show us an example of this ideal, it is to double-down on the proliferation of the message of ‘a hero of labour’ : James Roberston – the walking man.

    Power Plant Employment

    Power Plant Employment

    Movies and documentaries on reactor disasters were trending last year. 10 years since Fukushima and 35 years since Chernobyl rolled the carpet out. For a true insight into the working world of nuclear power plants, however, I do recommend going further back, to Volker Sattel's "Unter Kontrolle" (2011).

    Japan's sea lions

    Japan’s sea lions

    Anti-stereotypical professions: Ama-San and Haenyo ─ apnoea divers in Japan and Korea

    Fischli and Weiss as DIY

    Fischli and Weiss as DIY

    A young Youtuber has presumably unwittingly made a remake of Fischli and Weiss' famous art video "The Way Things Go" (1987), raising interesting questions about the relationship between art, professional craft and DIY.

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    About this blog

    By selecting a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. They are both based in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their cor­re­spon­ding articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.

    About this blog

    With picking a film or an image, this blog literally illus­tra­tes the vast sphere of work, employ­ment & education in an open collec­tion of academic, artistic and also anecdotal findings.

    About us

    Konrad Wakol­bin­ger makes docu­men­ta­ry films about work and life. Jörg Mar­ko­witsch does research on education and work. We both work in Vienna. Infor­ma­ti­on on guest authors can be found in their respec­ti­ve articles.

    More about

    Inte­res­ted in more? Find recom­men­da­ti­ons on relevant festivals, film collec­tions and lite­ra­tu­re here.