For most people the word work is synonymous with jobs, labor and occupations. The things we do to pay the rent. The mundane routine can often overshadow the nuances of the work that we do.
In this talk at RMIT in Melbourne, philosopher Alain de Botton reminds us of the importance of appreciating the details of work and workplaces. In this way we can have a greater understanding of the impact our daily tasks have on culture and society, or perhaps decide that it's time for a new career.
Alain de Botton
Alain de Botton is a British writer and television producer who employs a philosophical and accessible approach to examining a variety of subjects from the abstract--love and happiness--to the material--architecture.
In August 2008, he founded an unconventional new educational establishment in central London called The School of Life, which offers intelligent instruction on how to lead a fulfilled life. De Botton is a frequent contributor to numerous newspapers, journals and magazines and is a member of the Arts Council of England's literature panel.
De Botton owns and helps run his own production company, Seneca Productions, which regularly broadcasts television documentaries based on his work. His most recent book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, is an examination of the modern workplace and the role work has played in our lives throughout history.
Michael Leunig is known as a cartoonist, philosopher, poet and artist. His commentary on political, cultural and emotional life spans thirty-five years and has often explored the idea of an innocent and sacred personal world.
He describes his approach as regressive, messy and vaudevillian - producing work which is both raw and sublime, loved and hated. His themes and images have been widely used and adapted in the realms of music, theatre, therapy, religious life and spirituality.
Alain de Botton, author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, discusses lessons he learned from observing workers at a United Biscuits factory in the UK.
According to Botton, highly specialized jobs lead to a sense of aimlessness in many workers. "The problem of the modern world...is it becomes very, very hard to see the impacts that you have on anybody's life."
Author Alain de Botton discusses the taboo of sexual relations between coworkers.
He draws comparisons between the Catholic Church’s stance on sex to the polices found at many places of work. "What the large corporation has to deny is the idea that sex might be more fun than work," says Botton.
Author Alain de Botton says routine work allows us to impose order, provides us a distraction from thoughts of deaths and permits us to be something "slightly better than we manage to be in our day-to-day life."
Industry that provides services rather than goods. Economists divide the products of all economic activity into two broad categories, goods and services. Industries that produce goods (tangible objects) include agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and construction. Service industries include everything else: banking, communications, wholesale and retail trade, all professional services such as engineering and medicine, all consumer services, and all government services. The proportion of the world economy devoted to services rose rapidly in the 20th century. In the U.S. alone, the service sector accounted for more than half the gross domestic product in 1929, two-thirds in 1978, and more than three-quarters in 1993. Worldwide, the service sector accounted for more than three-fifths of global gross domestic product by the early 21st century. As increases in automation facilitate productivity, a smaller workforce is able to produce more goods, and the service functions of distribution, management, finance, and sales become relatively more important.
The only people who can access academic knowledge are the priveledged few who study and work at university and I am one of those. I think Alain De Botton's information and knowledge is accessible to all peole who are interested in ideas and critical thinking. It is also expressed in a way that is accessible to other people who for whatever reason are unable to study at institutions that promote higher learning and critical thought.
PS Alain's academic history from Wiki : De Botton spent the first eight years of his life in Switzerland where he learned to speak French and German. He was sent to the Dragon School, a boarding school in Oxford, where he learned to speak English. He subsequently boarded at Harrow School. He achieved a double starred first in history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge (1988–1991) and completed his master's degree in philosophy at King's College London (1991–1992). He began a Ph.D in French philosophy at Harvard University, but gave up research to write books for a general public. He had also been a PhD candidate at King's College London.
You defend the stock in trade of the academic - scholarship - without making room for the originality and independent thinking which drives good speakers and commentators, who are so often more interesting than academics. Seems to me that Alain de Botton shows very well how a good mind when applied to a familiar topic like sex in the office can come up with insights and amusing apercus that are quite beyond the studious academic, who recycles other people's thoughts, and will eventually make a study of de Botton, you can be sure!
To each his own, mate.
"If Alain's work can't meet ACADEMIC STANDARDS it won't be referenced and it will eventually just go out of print and be forgotten. As a result he would have earned a good living but made NO IMPACT ...."
Yes I guess I am defending the academic point of view. In academia you have to do the work - read the literature, do the research then comment. Alain on the other hand thinks its’ OK to draw on the literature which suits him, ignore the swathes of less exciting material, and then wax lyrical. Had he done his homework he would have known, for example, that Braverman talked about many of the issues raised by Alain on work yonks ago. So he had not done his homework. That annoys me – especially when he is unfairly characterising the profession to which I belong to as surviving only because it is able to ‘mystify’ what it does; which is rubbish. I understand that as a businessman he needs to construct a clear product identity (in this case by differentiating himself favourably from academics by crudely caricaturing them as something they are not) but in this case his claims are incorrect. Storm in a tea cup I know – but that’s academia for you. If I could write like him I dare say would not be sitting here in front of a pile of marking – or perhaps I would, I don’t know.
(Chris Ivory)I agree with your statement that," the academic earns the right to draw a salary by 'knowing the field' and being able to add a little to it - something which requires time and effort". However, the following claim is unwarranted: "If Alain's work can't meet ACADEMIC STANDARDS it won't be referenced and it will eventually just go out of print and be forgotten. As a result he would have earned a good living but made NO IMPACT ...."
I have nothing against specialization but you are clearly presenting an ACADEMIC point of view here where people don`t really make a significant IMPACT in knowing ourselves and our world unless they publish in a prestigious scientific journal... Well, perhaps you are living in that world ...
This topic is most relevant now because of the "economic turmoil" and the recent massive layoffs. Even those that haven't been cut have to recognize their own vulnerability and ask themselves if their pain and effort is really worth it. "What do you do?" is usually the first question anyone asks when they meet someone, thus it is tied heavily to someone's identity. Some people work so they can make money to use to do the things they really want while others work because that really is what they want to do with their time.
For some, work is an escape from their home life. Why else would you take your Blackberry on vacation? Because you are bored. People left at work think you are awesome, dedicated and a bit weird for responding, though on the other hand they don't really get the chance to miss you or figure out they can get along just fine without your constant presence. Work is a rare place where someone can feel needed.
Alain is wrong about academia and academia is right to be suspicious of him. Academic credibility does not come from having the 'key' to unlocking particular texts it comes from having done the hard graft of reading and assimilating those texts - lots of them. The academic earns the right to draw a salary by 'knowing the field' and being able to add a little to it - something which requires time and effort. Its a slow, painstaking and humble processes - very different from the grand generalisations and free-floating insights Alain allows himself. Its not mystification or a con and Alain should resist characterising academics as just another profession defending their income against the 'threat' of being demystified. Besides, whats to defend? Alain might like to try living on an academic's income.
I remain a fan (I will often turn to Alain at bed time when Zikek gets a bit hard ;-) but i do wonder how great Alain's work could be if he had been bothered to spend some time with the existing literature on work ,travel and other subjects that interest him. In many ways Alain's work is wasted. Its just ideas knitted together with memories of other work and conversations about it. Its not reliable or rigourous. I can't use it - by which I mean I can't reference it. If Alain's work can't meet academic standards it won't be referenced and it will eventually just go out of print and be forgotten. As a result he would have earned a good living but made no impact, not really addedd to the flow of ideas that underpin how we know ourselves and our world. Perhaps this is dawning on him (hence the anxious vigour of his dismissal of academe and its ways?). Maybe its time to come back Alain?