Critical Theory and the Post Work Imaginary

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Advances in production systems and technology, particularly around automation and robotics, have been accompanied in recent years by a resurgence of debate about the future of work. Many contemporary accounts inhabit a utopian space where radical change is desired and envisioned (see for example Frayne 2015; Mason 2015; Srnicek and Williams 2016; Bastani 2019). They point to profound, possibly revolutionary change in the nature of work – perhaps the end of work as we know it. They place work at the centre, or make it a key determinant of, social life as presently known, and in so-doing tend to offer up a critique of capitalist society in toto. During the twentieth century, Western economies grappled with the issue of automation, at the same time finding themselves oscillating between consumer-fuelled expansion and economic crisis. This produced an intellectual engagement with automation and post-work which has much in common with that of today’s ‘postindustrial utopians’ (Frankel 1987). Even stretching back into antiquity, utopian thinkers imagined a world without toil, and so the notion of ‘post work’, or the ‘end of work’ exists in the context of a long and distinctive intellectual heritage. This chapter presents an analysis of this intellectual heritage and seeks to illustrate continuity and disjuncture in the dynamics of what could be termed ‘post work imaginaries’ (Srnicek and Williams 2016: 107-127, Weeks 2011).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExperiencing the New World of Work
EditorsJeremy Aroles, Francois-Xavier de Vaujany, Karen Dale
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Critical Theory
  • Marcuse
  • Gorz
  • future of work
  • end of work
  • Marx
  • Rifkin
  • underclass
  • Utopianism
  • automation


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