The Historical Transformation of Work

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Chapter contents
Work in pre-industrial societies Work in industrial capitalist societies Main features of work in industrial capitalist societies Capitalist industrialization and the primacy of work Crises and industrial capitalism Technological and organizational change The rise of trade unions Women and work in the development of industrial capitalism The dominant conception of work in industrial capitalism Summary and conclusions Further reading Questions for discussion and assessment

Before the advent of industrial capitalism approximately 200 years ago in England, work referred in a generalized way to activities directed at satisfying the human need for survival, for the vast majority, at a
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First, the label ‘industrial capitalism’ is preferred since an essential element of the earliest and subsequently the most economically successful industrial societies which dominate the world economy is that they are capitalist as well as industrial. Second, the development of human societies is ongoing, hence the debate about whether, and in what ways, advanced industrial capitalist societies have become post-industrial


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is indicated by the use of a broken line after the industrial type in Table 1.1, which summarizes the main types of human society.

Hunting and gathering societies
The earliest known human societies were based on hunting and gathering and lasted longer than any other type of society, namely from the beginnings of human society, estimated to be at least 40,000 years ago, to around 10,000 years ago. Somewhat surprisingly given the globalization of industrial capitalism, a small number of these ‘Stone Age’ cultures have survived into the modern era, for example, Aborigines in Australia and Pygmies in Africa. In these essentially nomadic and small-scale societies, their exceedingly limited technology, involving the widespread use of stone for tools and weapons, typically did not produce a regular economic surplus or lead to marked inequalities. Consequently, everyone in such societies
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