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Work: The Last 1,000 Years (Hardcover)
Tracing the complexity and contradictory nature of work throughout history
By the end of the nineteenth century, the general Western conception of work had been reduced to simply gainful employment. But this limited perspective contrasted sharply with the personal experience of most people in the world—whether in colonies, developing countries or in the industrializing world. Moreover, from a feminist perspective, reducing work and the production of value to remunerated employment has never been convincing.
Andrea Komlosy argues in this important intervention that, when we examine it closely, work changes its meanings according to different historical and regional contexts. Globalizing labour history from the thirteenth to the twenty-first centuries, she sheds light on the complex coexistence of multiple forms of labour (paid/unpaid, free/unfree, with various forms of legal regulation and social protection and so on) on the local and the world levels. Combining this global approach with a gender perspective opens our eyes to the varieties of work and labour and their combination in households and commodity chains across the planet—processes that enable capital accumulation not only by extracting surplus value from wage-labour, but also through other forms of value transfer, realized by tapping into households’ subsistence production, informal occupation and makeshift employment. As the debate about work and its supposed disappearance intensifies, Komlosy’s book provides a crucial shift in the angle of vision.
About the Author
Andrea Komlosy is Professor at the Department for Social and Economic History at the University of Vienna, Austria, where she is coordinator of the Global History and Global Studies programs. She has published on labor, migration, borders and uneven development on a regional, a European and a global scale. In 2014/15 she was a Schumpeter Fellow at the Whetherhead Center for International Relations at Harvard University.
“As Andrea Komlosy argues in Work: The Last 1,000 Years, our conception of what constitutes work has changed markedly over time. The professor of social history at the University of Vienna writes that our commonly accepted definitions are too narrow, too European, too male and too modern.”
—John Thornhill,Financial Times
“Komlosy’s analysis is a helpful reminder that our familiar understanding of work is narrow and historically exceptional. The hierarchy we have established in the industrialized West, placing permanent, full-time, legally contracted wage work at the top of a pyramid of social good, is deeply flawed—denigrating not only those millions who work outside its confines, but also devaluing and neglecting the kinds of nonwork activities that enrich and give meaning to human lives. By showing that ‘work’ may exist without wages, a boss or a workplace outside the home, Komlosy’s analysis allows us to think more broadly about what we value, and whether we want to continue to separate work and life.”
—Joanna Scutts, In These Times
“Andrea Komlosy has written an important book on the global history of work during the past 800 years … she thinks about labour on a global scale, thus overcoming a deep Eurocentric bias in much of the labour history as it exists, and she brings feminist conversations on labour into an analysis of virtually all aspects of labour history. Her book is unique, I am not aware of any other such volume.”
“Teeming with insights, from the contempt for manual labour in ancient Greece to the historical tendency for all kinds of subsistence tasks to be ‘housewife-ized’ into unpaid domestic labour.”