Work and Freedom in Contemporary Capitalism
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Despite the centrality of employment to contemporary political and economic discourse - a position reinforced by the recent economic crisis - political theory has failed to engage with the organization of work or with the norms guiding it. This dissertation offers a deeper understanding of the political functions and significance of employment by analyzing them in conjunction with freedom. In particular, it reveals the role of freedom in securing our allegiance to paid work, and performs an immanent critique on the basis of freedom. Chapter 1 analyzes freedom in neoliberal philosophy through the work of Friedrich Hayek. It argues that Hayek's individualistic account of freedom and celebration of entrepreneurialism nourishes a view of paid work as an act of freedom, despite structural coercion to sell our labor power. Chapter 2 analyzes flexibility as a neoliberal instantiation of freedom in relation to employment that offers workers some degree of freedom and thus helps secure our commitment to the wage relation. At the same time, this chapter argues that our attachment to work and the individualized, precarious, and competitive nature of the labor market limit the emancipatory potential of flexibility. Realizing this potential requires a reconfiguration of the meaning of work (or a `refusal of work') and the introduction of a basic guaranteed income (BI). While signs of such a `refusal' are hard to find in contemporary society, chapter 3 reads the riots and public sector strikes in Britain in 2011 as moments of instability in the meaning of work. By resisting the extension of working life in the name of retirement, the strikers struggled with the government over the proper relation between work, life, and freedom. Demands for the BI appear to make an even stronger challenge to the ideology of work, as this scheme would enable a lifetime of freedom from work. Yet as chapter 4 reveals, many arguments for the BI extol its capacity to boost employment and would therefore fail to tackle various problems stemming from the preeminence of work. Only a more radical critique of the work society itself can help realize the emancipatory potential of both the basic income and the existing regime of flexibility.
- Political science