Salon 31 Workspheres

In 1928, the economist John Maynard Keynes began composing the essay, “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” in which he expressed economic optimism and predicted a future of enjoyed leisure. Envisioning a 15-hour work week, Keynes implied we would be able to devote the rest of our time to improving social relations and well-being. Nearly one hundred years later, everyone is still working and wishing for a full 40-hour job. Whether working as a matter of survival, of duty, of identity, or all of the above, most individuals are still defined by their occupation. Fluctuations in employment rates; weakened unions; fears of rising unemployment due to automation; the surge of the gig economy; the adoption of coworking spaces, paralleled by the proliferation of ‘all-inclusive’ company campuses; all these phenomena are both cause and consequences of the fact that the nature of work has shifted. Reflecting on our changing political and social landscape, we will question who works, and what it means to work today.

Some questions we strived to answer: How has the concept of work changed in the past two decades? Who works, and who doesn’t? What does it mean to work today? Does work determine one’s social value? What about personal value? How can we consider class divides and unemployment in this context? Is work a right? Is it a privilege? What is the value of productivity? How do we measure it? What is ‘free time’ and how do we value it? To what extent is work a means for survival versus a sphere for community and even social change? How does technology affect who works? How does it affect the way we work? Are proposals for universal basic income a positive step towards equality, an expedient solution to offset the possible consequences of automation, or a way for top members of society to maintain extreme wealth without pushback? Are there any types of work that will never be perturbed by technological progress? How do we exist without work? In our current political and social landscape, how does the right to work legitimize power? Is work intrinsically a political act?

This salon took place on May 15th, 2019.


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