On the margins of the labor society. Resistance to employment and seizure of the future of individuals against work

Reception: April 14, 2020

Acceptance: November 5, 2020


This article documents another way of thinking and dealing with uncertainty and the management of the future from ways of relating to work located “on the fringes” of the work society. It is an empirically constructed investigation based on semi-structured interviews with professionals who resist work and which show that for this category of individuals, uncertainty implies assuming our common vulnerability without much worrying about what may happen tomorrow, and entails an active and autonomous way of appropriation of his life and of revaluation of ways to build solidarity from gratuity. In short, it is a way of materially building life and the future in break with the work-consumer society.

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On the Sidelines of a Labor Society. Resistance to Employment and Seizing the Future of Individuals Against Salaried Work

This article documents another way of thinking and facing uncertainty and managing the future from a way to relate to work that is on the “sidelines” of a work society. An empirically built investigation, based on semi-structured interviews to professionals that resist working shows that, for this category of individuals, uncertainty implies assuming our common vulnerability without worrying much for what the future holds, leading to an active and autonomous appropriation of their lives and reassessing ways to build solidarity from gratuity. In sum, it is a way to materially build a life and the future while breaking away from a society of work and consumption.

Keywords: labor society, work dogma, resistance to work, appropriation of oneself, uncertainty, seizing the future.


This article addresses the question of the relationship with work and with the future of a group of individuals who declare themselves in resistance against work. The philosophical idea of the rejection of work has been present in texts by various authors almost since the very emergence of industrial capitalism founded on work. Figures like Thoreau, Dewey, Morris, Russell, among many others, devoted memorable pages to bitterly criticizing the colonization of life by work.

Until now, the sociology of work has barely addressed this issue from the perspective of workers, despite the fact that it echoes a set of practices and ideas that more and more agents adhere to. The little presence of this topic in work studies is perhaps related to the prevalence, even in the academic environment, of the widely shared social belief about the evident and undeniable nature of work as a desirable way of life for every adult individual (Frayne, 2017).

Here it is convenient to avoid a possible misunderstanding that could lead the reader to an unfortunate reading of the entire text. In the first place, resistance practices and criticisms of work have accompanied industrial capitalism since its inception (see Thompson, 1994; Federici, 2010; Castro, 1999; Díez, 2014; Rifkin, 1996, among others). It is a truism that many peasants and people in the trades, among others, prefer to be “their own boss” and that, from a certain level of income, people prefer to exchange working hours for hours of leisure or pleasure (Rifkin, 1996 : 41). But, apart from detailing their profile a bit in the second part of this text, the subjects that concern me here almost all have professional studies and come from families of the Mexican middle class. With Bourdieu (1979) we learned that this social category tends to invest heavily in the education of the offspring in order to guarantee them a successful professional and work future, mainly as employees of a large company or a public or private institution.

Most of the subjects of yore are sons and daughters of individuals who forged a life articulated around work, and longed for a fate at least similar. I try to show in this text that at different times everyone broke with these expectations and assumed a position of open opposition to the "dogma of work", with which they have aroused the anger or disgust of more than one member of their family of origin.

As Frayne (2017) has shown, there is a pervasive social propensity to regard as nutty or as hippies (rather derogatory qualifier) to people who decide to refuse to spend a good part of their lives “locked up” in an office,1 under the supervision of a boss or a boss. For not being inserted in the normative pole of the world of work or, in the words of Kurz, Trenkle and Lohoff, for resisting "committing most of the vital energy to an absolute purpose of others" (2004: 120), it is taken for fact that they live overwhelmed by the uncertainty against which, in theory, work shelters.

Now, let us grant that the margins of the labor society are marked by uncertainty and the difficulty of grasping the future. But, as Sennett (2005) has shown among many others, this same situation also prevails among those who are fully integrated into that society. I do not deny that there are those who are happy at work; But this does not at all mean that only by adhering to this work condition can a good life be built. As will be seen in the narrative of the interviewees, it is feasible to forge a full life without being employed in an institution or a company.

Here I dare to break a spear affirming that the conception of work that we inherited from the century xix it has colonized our minds in such a way that it has rendered us unable to even make an effort to understand and accept the existence of another form of relationship with work. Thus, in this text I try to defend the following argument: individuals who make their lives in resistance, if not in rejection, to work are inhabited by an ideal of life that is not consistent with the delivery of their autonomy, their creativity and the best part of their time in exchange for vacations that, in the words of one interviewee, “only serve to reproduce the workforce”, and a salary that gives access to the consumption of objects that they do not have time to enjoy. I will show that engaging in what Flichy (2017) calls “the other job” entails a different conception of uncertainty which, in turn, implies dealing with it in another way.

The development of this thesis unfolds throughout the four sections that make up the text. The first contains an analysis framework that serves to make sense of the interviewees' narrative about their perception and their relationship with work. Provides a framework for understanding job refusal. This is followed by methodological considerations that offer a glimpse of how I proceeded to construct and analyze the empirical data that support this article. In sections three and four I report the narrative of the individuals regarding the meaning of their resistance to work and the way in which they conceive and face the uncertainty associated with their “no” to work. I conclude with a reflection on the ethical and political message implicit in the relationship of resistance of these individuals with work and what would be gained by heeding their criticism and resistance.

Framework for understanding the refusal to work

There are several signs that lead to think that current individuals have very ambiguous or even contradictory relationships with work. In France, for example, most of them report being happy with their work, but only half consider themselves satisfied with it (Flichy, 2017). Sociologists explain this ambiguity from the distinction between meaning or content and working conditions. The first concerns the usefulness or the end of the work activity, while the second points, among other things, to the means and the autonomy to decide on the work process. Individuals would be happy with the scope of their activities in their dimension of contribution to something collective and for the opportunity to show themselves capable or competent, but they would be much less so because of “the new ways of organizing work, which require more personal involvement of the worker …, Increase stress, because they involve an intensification of work. If there is a certain taste for work, it is regularly accompanied by suffering ”(Flichy, 2017: 96). The data and analysis offered by Pfeffer (2018) for the United States and other countries coincide with what was observed in France. In general, individuals find some pleasure in carrying out their activities for which they experience a certain attachment, but at the same time the framework in which they carry them out causes them a lot of suffering.

As for Mexico, the World Happiness Report (whr, 2019), on a scale from 0 to 10, reported for 2018 a satisfaction index in the main activity or occupation of the Mexicans surveyed of 8.8. Only personal relationships scored higher than occupation. While academics speak over and over again, with a certain hint of lamentation, informality and job insecurity, workers make a rather very positive subjective evaluation of their activity. However, there are indications that the situation of suffering, exhaustion or burnout described for other societies also occurs in these latitudes. In 2017, the International Labor Organization reported that 40% of Mexican employees suffered from job stress due, in part, to pressure in the work environment; In the same year, the president of the Mexican Association of Psychiatry observed that "today workers are subjected to loads of stress that exceed the normal levels that an individual can handle in a position that represents responsibilities" (Poy Solano, 2017).

Another sign of individuals' distaste for current working conditions is provided by the large number of sarcasm and mocking "memes", often self-referential, that circulate around office workers. The Facebook group "Mundo Godínez", which accumulates just under two million followers, offers countless images, accompanied by thousands of comments that allow you to get closer, in a limited way, it is true, but also valuable given the spontaneity of the comments, to the perception and evaluation of these workers of the current forms of work organization (salaried). Images and comments often point to the "misfortunes" that are like the shibboleth office life: lack of autonomy, schedule constraints, surveillance, burnout, the boreout, etc. These situations involve a form of precariousness that Linhart (2009) qualifies as subjective, which can become more pernicious than the (objective) form of precariousness that is so often talked about in work studies.2

Many authors attribute the current degradation of working conditions to the rise of the managerial ideology of management (management) in work organization (Thoemmes, Kanzari & Escarboutel, 2011; Marzano, 2011; Gaulejac, 2008; Bermúdez, 2017), which places employees in the face of contradictory demands to be autonomous under orders or to follow certain standards of excellence and success contrary to or alien to your own prospects for good performance and well-being.

Contrary to popular belief, the much-used flexibility in the organization of work in the post-Fordist era in no way means less vigilance or more autonomy in carrying out tasks. As some research has shown (Boltanski and Chiapelo, 1999; Marzano, 2011), the autonomy promised in post-Fordism is nothing more than a decoy that has served to lead to a much greater involvement or dedication of employees, to the detriment of their personal and family life (Thoemmes, Kanzari and Escarboutel, 2011; Marzano, 2011) and their mental integrity (Aubert and Gaulejac, 1993).

This has led Linhart (2016) to see a radicalization of certain nodal practices of Taylorism, such as surveillance through new technological instruments and the colonization of life through work. As is known, many employees of the highest levels of responsibility have very long working hours and must be available at all times for potential requirements of companies or clients (Thoemmes, Kanzari and Escarboutel, 2011; Reid, 2015; Laillier and Stenger, 2017). With the harshness that characterizes their prose, Kurz, Trenkle and Lohoff describe this reality thus:

Life takes place somewhere else, or nowhere, because the rhythm of work takes over everything. Children are trained for time, so that later they are "fit for work." Holidays only serve to reproduce the "work force." And even when we eat, go out at night or love, the background clock rings (2004: 112).

In Taylorism, work took over the workers' bodies, but not their minds, which could throw themselves into idyllic daydreams while carrying out their tasks; On the other hand, in postfordism, work accompanies them everywhere, at all times (Marzano, 2011).

Now the dominant tendency, yesterday and today, to lose your life in the effort is not inherent in human nature. It is not in the biological or evolutionary constitution of the human animal, as perhaps of no other, the love of exhausting effort or a life of absolute dedication to work without respite (Bohler, 2019). The current culture of physical and emotional effort, the harder the better, is the result of nearly two centuries of conspicuous construction of the work ethic and its logical drift, the work society (Graeber, 2018; Bauman, 2000) .

This has implied that

Banish, by hook or by crook, ... the widespread habit that they saw as the main obstacle to the splendid new world they were trying to build: the widespread tendency to avoid, as much as possible, the apparent blessings offered by working in factories already resist the rhythm of life set by the foreman, the clock and the machine (Bauman, 2000: 18).

Faith in the ethical and civic virtues of employment overcomes traditional political cleavages; and the promotion of this has become the obsession of every ruler or candidate to take his success and popularity seriously.

As several authors have shown (Frayne, 2017; Polanyi, 2003; Méda, 2001), the link between work, civic sense and awareness of self-worth is a historically dated construction whose appearance entailed the annihilation or invisibility of other older ways of building. life and the sense of self-worth around referents other than the subordinate labor relationship. The seizure of these other forms of relationship with work requires thinking about it in different terms than those of exchange "value", "profit", "accumulation", and so on. (Panoff, 1977). What leads to formulate the thesis around which this text is articulated: making your life "on the fringes" of the society of work or resisting it is another way of manufacturing oneself, of assuming autonomously and being socially useful in another way.

The foregoing considerations have all their relevance because the position of the interviewees towards work, which I will expose later, has a lot of reaction against the situation of job burnout, because more than some of them suffered it in their past as employees, be it against the imperative to make work the foundation of life.

Investigating the Margins of the Work Society: Methodological Considerations

Flichy (2017) distinguishes two methodological perspectives in the study of work: the first is the most traditional and focuses on the study of work itself; that is, it focuses on rather objective variables related to workers and companies. This approach is interested in the general dynamics of the world of work. The second perspective is interested in the activity of workers. Their focus of attention is what individuals do on a daily basis, which can be multiple occupations, the possible links between one activity and another and, above all, the way in which they link work activity (s) and other dimensions of their life. In other words, the gaze is placed on the content of what individuals do and the meaning they give to it.

This approach is interested in "doing" (faire him) (in Dewey's heritage) and assumes the human being as a maker of objects, a “tool maker” (Renault, 2012: 127); thus, "doing" becomes constitutive of the life of every human being. Beyond the spectrum of employment, the lives of many individuals pass in a constant tinkering in which effort, fatigue, pleasure and satisfaction come to mix. As Flichy (2017) shows, many wage earners find in “doing” the space for creativity, sociability, and human flourishing that is denied them in their jobs. This is the perspective I adopt in the research on which this text is based; In this I try to document current forms of relationship with work that in discourse and in practice break, or at least attempt to do so, with the (symbolically) dominant paradigm of connection with the world of work.

Dewey (1998, 2008) distinguishes and opposes "work" to "labor". Work is, for him, assimilable to play and art, inasmuch as it involves experimenting, creating, expressing himself as a free and singular being; Furthermore, and most importantly, the purpose of work is intrinsic, it is the pleasure of doing it or, in fine, is the confirmation of the worker as a doer or generator. The result of "doing / work" is a kind of inner gratification, an affirmation of oneself in its uniqueness. Instead, it calls “labor” the burdensome activity whose purpose is extrinsic and alien to the personal ends of the individual. Industrial capitalism articulated and praised "labor" to the detriment of "work" or "doing."

When I speak of rejection or resistance to the work of the subjects of my research, it should be read as rejection of "labor" in Dewey's sense; and that negativity entails a defense of work understood as “doing”. They are individuals with a discourse about work that resembles those studied by Frayne (2017) in the United Kingdom; that is, they reject work or resist it for various reasons and try more autonomous, playful, creative and, in some cases, solidarity ways of occupying themselves and generating resources or goods. In this, most of them keep their distance from the vulgate around entrepreneurship. Although they share some traits with entrepreneurs (especially those in the world of startups), in any case I think that they differ from them in regard to the meaning or objective of the work. In general, they are fully embedded in the logic of the new capitalism, while most of my interviewees are rather critical of them.

Based on interviews with individuals who explicitly declare themselves opposed or resistant to work, I offer in this text an approach to their way of perceiving the future, of living with the uncertainty and possible concerns that inhabit them in these respects. This article concerns interviews with 19 of them, nine women and ten men. They studied at least until graduation, except for two, whose resistance to work led to the rejection of the university. I started by interviewing acquaintances whose criticisms of the work I already knew; they themselves contacted me with friends with whom they share these provisions. Also, after sharing a brief description of the study and the type of profile that I was interested in interviewing, several colleagues put me in contact with potential collaborators whom I have also interviewed. The interviews lasted between an hour and a half and two and a half hours.

In all cases, at least one of the parents has professional studies and works as such. Hence, they are individuals well endowed with cultural capital and belong to the middle class. It is known that, in Latin America, the emergence and expansion of the middle class are directly linked to the actions of the State in development matters (Bertaccini, 2009; Escobar and Pedraza, 2010, Wortman, 2010; León, Espíndola and Sémbler, 2010). This social category benefited from the modernization, urbanization and expansion of the State, which created millions of occupations and “favorable conditions in terms of prices, social and urban services and credit, which facilitated access to a higher standard of living. for formal urban workers ”(Escobar and Pedraza, 2010: 358). In other words, said social class is the daughter of industrialization, educational democratization or the creation of the service economy; all this from the hand of the State in Latin America. Thus, Bertaccini (2009) makes of the modern Mexican middle class a construction of public power, which begins in the early 1940s.

Product of the upward social mobility promoted by the developmental state, the middle class has a special relationship with work and the imaginary that have sustained it. Bourdieu (1979) makes this social category the bearer of “cultural goodwill”; that is, it makes investment in education and the appropriation of cultural assets the main asset for the preservation of its position in society. What is bequeathed to the children, in order to preserve this position, is higher professional training and work zeal. Thus, the rejection of work has a bit of a break with a family inheritance, which does not cease to arouse disagreement, suspicion, misunderstanding or criticism.

The interviewees are dedicated to the most varied occupations. Among them there are those who make craft beer, who do translations and interpretations, two who make breads and do carpentry work plus other trades, who give yoga classes, dance classes and do alternative therapies, who do tattoos, who write, translate and are founding a small publisher, etc. A common characteristic of most is that they abhor the kind of “occupational nobility” to which the possession of a university degree is usually linked (Crawford, 2010); that is: they have no qualms about carrying out any activity (socially useful and sanctioned).

For this reason, they profess a certain taste for trades and manual work (“learning to do things with my hands” is what one interviewee considers who has grown since she stopped living for work). At this point they are related to the makers and with the hackers (Berrebi-Hoffman, Bureau and Lallement, 2018), with the individuals against work studied by Frayne (2017) and the employees passionate about DIY and having spaces for “other work”, for “doing”, observed by Flichy (2017). They are also in total agreement with the critical positions of contemporary writers such as Smart (2004), Abenshushan (2013), Weeks (2011), among many others, towards the cult of work.

The interviewees agree that being "on the fringes" of the labor-wage society requires engaging in different activities for the pleasure and existential need to do so. For the purposes of this text, I analyzed the interviews focusing on the part of the narratives concerning the ways of grasping the future and projecting into it, facing uncertainty and signifying its particular relationship with work, striving to "understand" ( Bourdieu, 1993) the reasons of one and the other for building a relationship of relative distance or open resistance to work. The assumption that someone may have enough reasons to dislike the employer-employee employment relationship (as there may be to be relatively well in it) is a good antidote to the risk of unconsciously imposing uncontrolled questions spontaneously drawn from the interviewees. socially shared fictions about the legitimate relationship with work or my own status as an employee of a university.

It is remarkable the coincidence in the discourse of these individuals regarding the reasons for their distancing from work, their apprehension of uncertainty, their way of grasping the future, among other issues. In this regard, variables such as sex, age, marital status, having or not having children, schooling, and place of residence make no difference. For this reason, the quoted fragments of such and such interviews are relatively representative of everyone's vision on the subject in question. This does not mean that the sample is homogeneous; On the contrary, I tried to make it as little as possible in matters such as school and socio-professional trajectory, but these variables do not contribute any variation in terms of the perception of the place that work should have in life.

The main element of variation between the positions is ideological, since some are situated "below and to the left" and with certain affinities with anarchism and anti-capitalism, while others describe themselves as indifferent or distant from politics; Beyond these differences, there is a certain convergence about the nonsense of giving one's life to work and engaging in activities of little interest and social utility.

"Lost illusions"Or of the promised and dreamed life that never was and never will be

The society that was built around wages was characterized by the surrender of the worker's autonomy to the employer in exchange for job stability and material security (Castel, 1995). To this was added, as a third characteristic, the promise of increasing consumption capacity (Rifkin, 1996). In a world in which the manufacture of objects increased at dizzying speed, the viability of capitalism passed through the unrestricted promotion of consumption and the promotion of assiduous dedication to work as a means of access to the "happiness" of a life saturated with objects. manufactured. It is no exaggeration to say that the success of Fordist capitalism rested on the adjustment between labor and consumption through credit (Rifkin, 1996). Work was constructed as constitutive of the individual value and social belonging of individuals, while consumption was built as a measure of their success. An enduring ideology underlying this social organization, strongly articulated around work, consists of the firm belief in a life of bonanza as an inevitable result of dedication to work. For some four decades or more, the reality of the world of work has gone in the opposite direction to this belief that, paradoxically, continues to feed the vision and expectations of many about work.

Liliana, with undergraduate studies in media and postgraduate studies in urban development and nearly 25 years of work experience in different media, her parents and teachers made her believe that working with dedication and seriousness she would have a materially decent life and her well-being future would be guaranteed. For years she was believed; He neglected his personal life, family, friends, and other pursuits of interest in order to fulfill that promise.

In a first conversation, he reflected:

They sold me the idea that working since I was little and hard I would surely have a comfortable life. So far, I have done that but nothing as promised has happened. Rather, I work more and more, but the results are less and less (interview with Liliana, 46 years old, mother of two children, July 2019).

His vision of work corresponds to the two principles mentioned above, with which Graeber (2018) characterizes the jobs of our modern times. Our society makes the value and dignity of people depend on their relationship with work, but at the same time it has become abhorrent. In other words, work has become an end in itself and has to be harmful to people's lives. According to Graeber, “it is because it is horrible that modern work tends to be seen as an end in itself… In other words, workers get feelings of dignity and self-worth. because they hate their jobs ”(2018: 242).

Liliana considers that she has been pursuing the dreamed reality of living a good life with work, but that reality has always eluded her; the more he pursues her, the farther, elusive, elusive she becomes. You've reached a point where you've realized that the harder you work, the more difficult it was for you to make ends meet with a little money. Categorical, he finishes his reflection with this statement: "I don't want any more of that." His resistance to the society of work is based on a certain awakening to the reality principle.

In a second meeting, he reiterated the reflection on his work experience in the journalistic medium and offers his vision of the work:

When I left university I wanted to work, I was already working, I loved working, but I began to suspect very early that what I loved to do was journalism; There were companies that took advantage of the love I had from that job to exploit me. For example, in a newspaper I was five years old, there were many of us, in fact in five years no one had their salary raised, ever. In other words, five years we worked without increase. And since they were starting to fire and trim, trim, trim and trim, there were fewer and fewer people and we had more and more jobs. And as I told you: previously there were two other girls in addition to the newspaper. So, as there came a time when even people's bodies were deteriorating: their health, their emotions, their life as a couple; Well, in my work environment, in the environment in which I have moved, people get divorced two, three, four times, and of course there are many factors that generate a divorce, but a very important one in the case of my field is the lack of time. People don't have time to spend with someone other than their coworkers ... Or people get very drunk ... So, for me, what is work at this moment in my history ... well, it is something terrible, it is something that is generating exploitation , that does not let people live happy or with quality of life; If you want to put an unemotional adjective that can be measured like this: that you do not see your children, that you still cannot have a vacation in a small town in Jalisco, that in any case you never have money, you also do not have time and also you can not, even if you wanted to, raise your children or be with your partner, etc. ... People are always thinking that they are going to fire them, from my perception in exchange for nothing, in exchange for a fucking salary that does not even let you reach the fortnight (interview with Liliana).

This is consistent with the idea of work turned into an end in itself, even at the expense of the sustainability of workers' lives. Once the dedication to work has been erected in the figure of a full life, one becomes incapable of recognizing and giving importance to thousands of other things that give content to a human life. Frayne (2017) speaks of colonization of life by work when one lives under the imperative of submitting all existence to the tyranny of an office clock or of always being available for “whatever is offered”. Liliana's resistance is against said tyranny and colonization of life by the empire of work. This is how he expresses it:

It seems to me that work has become something ... since I was in the newspaper, let's say, there is a system that makes you think and believe that if you are not there all the time you are less productive, your work is worth less or you are simply a jerk [lazy]. And I always question… the fact that someone has to work from 9 to 2 and from 4 to 7 at night. This implies leaving your home at 8 in the morning and returning at 8 at night; In other words, it is 12 real hours of work outside your home. I believe that work is something very important, but it should be something pleasant, social, useful social, and also that it does not imply that you have to give your life or just leave it in an office. In other words, a person has different moments, different needs beyond just work ... That is, even though you don't have children, you have a partner, you want to go to the movies, you want to go to a concert, listen to music, see your friends, blablabla (interview with Liliana).

Like Liliana, the other research collaborators agree that work should be a source of joy, personal progress, manifestation and development of the potential of individuals. What they reject is the current dominant tendency to impose work as the "only true joy." Already at the beginning of the century xx there were hints of this; That is why Robert Walser dedicated several pages of scathing satire to him, but he never imagined that, a century later, the work would become, in Liliana's words, “a leech” that causes serious havoc in the lives of more and more people throughout the world (Pfeffer, 2018).

Macrina also lived, for a time, with the conviction that work gives access to goods that, in turn, lead to a full life. With training in social work, for five years he worked for a telecommunications company that allowed him to obtain the goods that he believed were essential for his life; But when he achieved that, he realized that the fullness of his life did not go through having a job like that or by acquiring the goods with which they are usually linked.

Spending a whole year with a schedule from 8 in the morning to 8 in the afternoon every day, no, I don't do it anymore. Before, I did it because I had a goal. My goal was to make money to go travel. I mean, I had that job because I knew that at some point I would leave, I had goals. One was to buy the van to travel, another was the car, the other was to make money to travel, you know? But the moment I started having all that money and everything, I didn't like that. No. I don't think it's healthy for anyone. The human being has not come here to work. He has come to enjoy and to share. And there is work for everyone so that every human being could work four hours a day, that we could all work, you know? Everyone to have their lot of money, everyone to be able to be happy, have a job and have [viability]. But the system wants us trapped, the system wants us slaves. I no longer want to be part of this system (interview with Macrina, 37 years old, single, June 2019).

What is called a system is based on the organization of life around work without respite and consumption at the weekend as a form of compensation or forgetting the life that one loses during long hours of work (the motor of capitalism). It is another way of saying that work colonizes our imagination in such a way that it is unthinkable for us to build a life other than working and a lot (Russell, 2017) “in things that are not [especially] enjoyed”, according to Graeber ( 2018), and buying superfluous things or things that you do not have time to use (Frayne, 2017).

Thus, in the opinion of Mariana (33 years old, master in translation, single, July 2019), the life of most people is summed up in that “one is born, grows up, works, works… and dies”. And he considers that those who submit to this tiny form of organization of society and life do so because they do not know any other way of forging and leading life other than working. The participants of this research, for various reasons, have awakened in their own way from that “dogmatic dream” called “live to work or work to live”, and they seek to forge a life in thousands of ways, among which work is only one more.

Otherwise to build the future and face uncertainty

Industrial society (or modernity itself) deprived individuals of the possibilities to build their world and to shape their lives using their own material and imaginative resources. By turning them into factory workers whose purpose was alien to them, it dismantled their worlds of life and deprived them of their instituting capacities (Polanyi, 2003). The arrangements implemented within the framework of the welfare state that gave these workers certain means to lessen the uncertainties of life and face the future with a certain feeling of “security”, in reality, made them “fragile”. This consideration is contrary to the long-held belief that links security or certainty with employment conditions with an indefinite contract.

Nassim Taleb (2013) has coined the term “antifragility” to refer to a property of individuals and other complex systems that makes them benefit or grow in adversity and makes them agile to face risk and uncertainty. Following his reasoning, I argue that the labor society that at the end of the century xix and first decades of xx It was built led to the production of fragile individuals lacking resources to face crises such as the closure of a factory or any dismissal. Cole's (2007) reading of the Marienthal male unemployment drama made famous by Jahoda and colleagues is consistent with this proposition. Cole shows that the installation in the Austrian community of the company whose closure left hundreds of men unemployed destroyed the old forms of sociability, control over time, relationship with the future, construction of meaning in their lives; and that transformation in their way of doing their lives that made them depend absolutely on factory work made them fragile, unable to cope with the vicissitudes with integrity and to devise other ways of giving content and forging their lives. As Thoreau (1983) affirmed, the work society, by imposing this as the only way of living, shunned all other ways of building a life and making society. It deprived individuals of the sense of usefulness and the true impulse of life.

In the perception of Taleb (2013), the systems that tend to eliminate randomness and variability (sorts of “Procrustean beds”) in life are themselves fragile and lead to the constitution of also fragile individuals. Thus, he argues that a taxi driver with highly variable income is much less fragile (or more "anti-fragile") than any full-time employee with an indefinite contract. Consequently, I think that being on the margins of the society of work entails a condition of “anti-fragility” that makes uncertainty positive and allows us to imagine the future as possibilities rather than as a threat.

This explains, in part, the rejection of the individuals in this research to the idea of spending their lives within four walls, performing monotonous tasks defined by others, on a rigid schedule. I have said that everyone is busy with different things that they do in different spaces, at flexible hours and at independently defined rhythms. Rejecting work leads to (or comes from) betting on the anti-fragility of living in randomness and on the diversification of the ways of working, being in time, consuming and living.

For Tomás, who dropped out of three undergraduate degrees and is contrary to any form of vertical subordination structure of the style of the school and the company, the uncertainty is more typical of those who work for a salary, because they are the ones who are thinking about the future. As for him, he already knows what will be in his future: anarchy as a writer and editor, the job of a baker, plus some other thing (s) left to the randomness of his existence. Here is his position on uncertainty and the future:

Tomás: No, those are things that those who work think about (laughs). Because those people are the ones who think in certainty or in future uncertainty.

Interviewer: In your case, why don't you think about that?

Because… why think about that (laughs). Let's say that until now I have never lacked anything, everything has been given. And then why bother, start thinking about things that may worry me if since I made this decision, something has always come up, even when like this… like this without money and nothing; I mean, suddenly the carpentry comes out, right? I had a great time. And then the translations and then the bread, something has always come out that keeps me afloat. And of course, I mean, yes, there are times when, whore! Now, nothing has happened for a month, my savings are going away. There are moments like this, I don't know, after 15 years like this, I'm already a bit deep and I say: something is going to come out. And something always comes up. So, therefore, no, no uncertainty (interview with Tomás, 37 years old, single, various trades, September 19, 2019).

For these individuals, the certainty that work provides is a weakness (or a fragility) in that it restricts creativity and takes them away from problems and challenges. Of course, when they have had the experience of having a fixed income at the end of the month and, even more so, for years education has led them to assume that it is the legitimate desire, fear remains in the face of the hazards of existence even when there has been a firm and reasoned rejection of the life of dedication to work. If anything, work life with its uncertain tinsel of security is more scary. Liliana reflects:

[Not having a fixed income] makes me a little scared but I am even more scared to have the benefits of an insecure work life, as it is, in exchange for being in an office, no matter how beautiful, no matter how much gold whatever ... And above all, lose contact with what is outside. That possibility scares me, the possibility of not being able to go downtown one day during the week to see how the city works, of not being able to go on a city bus, of not being able to ... That is, those things that should, we should all have the possibility of doing them, in reality, not many people can do them. I am terribly afraid of those things. Or I want to do other things besides work, right? So, now I want to make art, other things than work. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'm thinking (interview with Liliana).

Many of the research participants quit “stable” and well-paying jobs because it was not how they wanted to make a living. In the words of one of them, he always had the possibility of working more and earning more and thus inserting himself into a spiral of meaningless work and consumption. Because of the courage they had for that resignation, even to the annoyance of their close circle, they tend to project themselves into the future with carelessness, confident that if a difficulty arises, as we saw with Tomás, they will know how to solve it as they have known up to now. . So also Macrina:

the word worry is preoccupation ahead of time. So, everything has a solution, everything is perfect. You don't have to worry about anything (laughs). I'm crazy, huh! That's what people think when they listen to me. But yes, maybe I'm crazy, but I'm happy, even being crazy (interview with Macrina).

She projects a nomadic future; and has been traveling for several years in various parts of the world. Thanks to various skills he has (yoga classes, massages, reiki, etc.), wherever he has arrived he has been able to find resources to stay and continue traveling. In the course of it, he has learned to overcome fear of what may happen and trust that, whatever happens, in the end everything works out. She says that at the beginning of her last trip to Argentina, where she went to visit a friend she met during another trip and where she also made several new friends,

It was about what will become of me, what will happen if I can't find a place, if I can't find money and such. And I always found it; always, always at the moment when I needed anything, that thing has appeared. And the last fear I have had is: "if I run out of the savings I have, and if I run out of money ..." And, here now in the last month, we went to travel with some friends and I ran out of money Because my card didn't work here in [the region], I couldn't withdraw money, I ran out of a peso, I didn't have a peso in my pocket. And everything, everything happened. I did not lack food, I did not lack ... some friends who appeared who were angels, who were by my side and helped me in what they could and they also made music and taught me that by making music and juggling you could make more money and be able to live . So, that's when I lost my fear of everything, because it is possible and that ... magic exists. The last fear that was that, and I think I created it myself, I expressed it, because it was like “what would happen if my card doesn't work and if I am unable to withdraw money and such”, and it happened. I manifested it and it happened. I suppose that the universe manifested it to teach me that nothing happens, that everything remains the same. Now I have no worries, none. I lost the last fear I had (interview with Macrina).

I alluded to the resignation that the majority of these individuals consented to; to her corresponds a bet for a life of sobriety. They consider that they did not have to give up the possibility of obtaining certain material goods because they were things that they had already considered not essential for their life, they were things that they did not want anyway. This is in line in several of them with some concern about the current climatic urgencies and a position against consumerism.

Final thoughts

In this article I have tried to account for the way in which a group of individuals strive to try another way of shaping their lives and affiliating with society, placing themselves, as far as possible, "outside" the Fordist or post-Fordist labor organization. . In reality, these individuals do not show a rejection of work as such or in its dimension of “doing”; As I have said, most of them are engaged in at least one type of regular activity and many define themselves as “multipurpose”. What they resist or "rejection" is the typical "work" of the labor society that emerged from Fordism, which predominates in most large companies and public organizations and is characterized, for a proportion of highly qualified workers, by a total absorption of the life span of individuals, the lack of autonomy, mental exhaustion, stress and the lack of meaning or social utility of the tasks to be carried out.

Those in today's world who resist submitting to the empire of work, whose deleterious effects on life are perhaps more serious today than a century ago, seek to engage in activities that allow them to lead a life that is largely consistent with the Deweyan ethical ideal. Their conception of work and the way they seek to occupy themselves corresponds to what that philosopher conceptualized as "doing." This concept refers to a type of work whose utility, assumed as a means of bonding with others and personal flourishing, precedes the economic dimension.

By refusing to give their lives to work, these individuals also choose to prioritize many other things that a working life often marginalizes. It opens the way to dedicate themselves to a variety of activities in which anthropological properties and different abilities of each are put to work. In my opinion, the decisive thing is that in their relationship with work they subordinate everything to their well-being, they subordinate the production of objects or the generation of resources to their physical, mental, emotional integrity and the sustainability of their human relationships and, in some cases , environmental. Today as in the past, it is a category of minority individuals, and in some aspects privileged, who choose to question the reduction of life to work and look at other ways of making work activity another existential dimension. However, the strength of its resistance is in its possible symbolic reach; namely: there are possibilities to build a (better) life by apostatizing from the religion of work.


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Ducange Médor He has a doctorate in Social Sciences from the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (ciesas). He is currently an academic at the University Center for Economic and Administrative Sciences of the University of Guadalajara. He has carried out research on the socioeconomic dynamics of single-parent households, university graduates and labor insertion, self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs and their relationship with work and practices of resistance to salaried work. Her topics of interest are work, education, gender and subjectivation.


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