Thursday, July 20, 2023

Review: The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work

The Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern WorkThe Working Life: The Promise and Betrayal of Modern Work by Joanne B. Ciulla
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was disappointed in and at times frustrated with this book. While there is a lot interesting and useful – Ciulla traces the history of the meaning of work through time as well as laying out various theories of work and management ideas – I found it somewhat one-sided, platitudinous, and over-generalized. (Though obviously not the author's fault, it is is a bit of date as well.)

While Ciulla is by no means anti-work, anti-business, or anti-markets, there is an ideological flavor, shall we say, in much of the book. There are few philosophers or economists referenced that offer heterodox views of the sociological, economic, or moral claims asserted. In this way, the book is rather uncritical of its own claims, even as the author does catalog a range of views of work and life.

The paradox of a study like this is that it tries to draw from a wide range of views and takes on ‘work’, across time, but in so doing it tends to become somewhat superficial. There is this view, and there is that view, and then this other view. As the author acknowledges, “work” covers a lot of different activities and comes with a multitude of attitudes and views about it. Many of these are contradictory. And so in trying to something about ‘work’ it tends towards the superficial. Work is important, work is unimportant. Work is primary, work is secondary. Work is a source of meaning, work is destructive of meaning.

At its best, the book does challenge one to think more about the concept of work, the meaning of work in our lives, and the role it plays (or ought to play) in our lives. It’s just that it wasn’t often at its best.

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