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04 March 2010

REQUEST: What is Work?

I'm doing some research for a class, and as part of it - but really for my own knowledge - I would like to ask for definitions of "Work." What is work? What significance does it have? How is it different from or similar to "Play"? Answers can be from personal experience, or ethnographic insight. In fact, if someone can point me to an "ethnography of work" I'd be thrilled!


Josh said...

Oh, oh! I know this one! Work = Force applied over a distance.
Elementary. =)

Also, from our old friend Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking classes.”

My own definition is split between 1) what one does to earn a living and 2) effort put towards achieving a goal. The two definitions can overlap entirely or not at all in a person's life, depending on how they earn a living and what their goals are.
Hope that is helpful.

btmc said...

My brother Colin did his MFA at UConn in connecticut. I used to visit his studio and I'd see a lot of uses of the word work. I can remember an american flag that was all black and white and grey made up entirely of repetitions of the word work. I also remember a list of phrases with the word work in it, such as:
work work work!
it's not working!
gotta go to work
works sucks
work is a drag
I like my work.

I don't remember any clear definition of the word though.
I would wonder how often it appears in our everyday vocabulary, in comparison to play.

Mommy's gotta work now
Go play

I don't know. I think work is most often given a negative connotation. Housework. Working for the man. but that might be only in my limited world view.
It's also a gift to the unemployed. And a status symbol to the young. It can be a way to define a person, construct an organization. Workers unite!

michael~ said...

Hey Jeremy, just weighing in:

Work, for me, is intentional 'productive activity'. 'Work' is anything a person does to produce something, or devote energy towards with the intention of producing. The outcome of 'work' could be an artifact, effect, or the cultivation of some specific living-object.

The key here, for me, is that 'work' produces something: either an object or an effect - and with intention.

It is the assemblage of human action-energy, intention-expectation and an extrinsic system of reward or feedback, operating in conjunction, that constitutes what can be meaningfully called 'work'.

Action-energy can be oriented towards activity that is non-work activity when an alternative intention is applied in a different context - for example when at 'play'.

Sher said...

I haver to agree with Michael's definition, which I intend to steal in part to prove a point to art haters. But to his words i would like to add this: when defining a word such as work, it is often helpful to look at compound words of which it is a part.
and the idomatic usages of which "body of work" is important for me to define personally. If you want to be fancy about it there is opus and oeuve to help further home in on a definition. Josh's physics equation can be rathe coarsely applied to all of the above.
Society only truly values work based almost exclusively on the monetary reward for work. I am an artist and because my "work" has not sold it is not valued in my family though it is highly prized by my friends. Applying a refined equation of work=effort over time+knowledge shows where the bias lies. Modern society does not like intangibles. And because the skills involved in the production of "art" (of anykind) do not induce sweat and resemble play it is not easily categorized as work though it is in fact often as arduous a task as mountain climbing.
And it seems that we are no closer to refining your definition for you... we tried.

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