The rather pristine title of this book suggests a study on topics like the shift from face-to-face interaction to virtual teams; how employees find meaning in their work; or the challenges of unemployment. But, as the subtitle indicates, the scope of this book is much more ambitious: an in-depth theoretical analysis of the concept of work/labor, followed by a bird’s eye view of different kinds of work relations from the 13th century until today. The theoretical framework follows the Modern World-System approach. The volume is a translation of the German-language version published in 2014.
The author, Professor of Economic and Social History at Vienna University, forcefully argues:
The concept of work that equates work with paid labour and dominates our way of speaking first emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the developed industrial countries. Industrial society’s entire economic and sociopolitical order was based on a definition of work as non-domestic, paid, legally codified, institutionalized and socially safeguarded employment (p. 8).
The theoretical section starts with the Eurocentric grand narrative of work, which could be paraphrased as follows: the ancient Greeks and Romans despised manual work. Medieval Christianity identified work with both pain and divine blessing. With the onset of capitalism, the concept of work was stripped of its ethical and religious connotations. While acknowledging the relevance of this master narrative, Komlosy points out two deficits: First, it ignores how the understanding of work as productive wage labor degraded unpaid but necessary activities connected with home and family life, largely performed by women, as non-work. Second, it also ignores the experience of non-European people.
In the second chapter, the author distinguishes between three main discursive approaches to work: overcoming it; praising it; and transforming it from a