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The Critique of Work in Modern French Thought

From Charles Fourier to Guy Debord,


Alastair Hemmens

(Palgrave Macmillan, 2019)

   What is work? Why do we do it? Since time immemorial the answer to these questions, from both the left and the right, has been that work is both a natural necessity and, barring exploitation, a social good. One might criticise its management, its compensation and who benefits from it the most, but never work itself, never work as such. In this book, Alastair Hemmens seeks to challenge these received ideas. Drawing on the new ‘critique-of-value’ school of Marxian critical theory, Hemmens demonstrates that capitalism and its final crisis cannot be properly understood except in terms of the historically specific and socially destructive character of labour. It is from this radical perspective that Hemmens turns to an innovative critical analysis of the rich history of radical French thinkers who, over the past two centuries, have challenged the labour form head on: from the utopian-socialist Charles Fourier, who called for the abolition of the separation between work and play, and Marx’s wayward son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, who demanded The Right to Laziness (1880), to the father of Surrealism, André Breton, who inaugurated a ‘war on work’, and, of course, the French Situationist, Guy Debord, author of the famous graffito, ‘never work’. Ultimately, Hemmens considers normative changes in attitudes to work since the 1960s and the future of anti-capitalist social movements today. This book will be a crucial point of reference for contemporary debates about labour and the anti-work tradition in France.

Table of contents

Marxian Theory and the Critique of Work

Charles Fourier, Utopian Socialism and Attractive Labour

Paul Lafargue, Early French Marxism and the Right to Laziness

André Breton, the Artistic Avant-Garde and Surrealism’s War on Work

Guy Debord, the Situationist International and the Abolition of Alienated Labour

The New Spirit of Capitalism and the Critique of Work in France Since May ’68

News from Nowhere, or an Epoch of Rest

Tag(s) : #Parutions & Bibliographie
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