Monday, January 4, 2010

Philosophy 101: What is Work?

Today I am considering a world where assembly line workers stop producing and contemplate their work for – oh, I don’t know – anywhere from 30 seconds to 20 minutes.

The thought of a worker stopping production to reflect on and contemplate the perfection of their widget is ridiculous. Yet reflection and contemplation is a very time consuming and inherent element of what I do.

I have a strong working class idea of what “work” means. That deeply embedded archetype is simultaneously in conflict with the kind of work I do, so much so that I have a hard time thinking of what I do all day as work.

Work means production. Sweat.

I write.

Unlike the processes of many working class jobs – the kind of work my boyfriend, my dad, my brother, my aunts, my uncles and many of my friends do – writing is not a process you can watch, or even one that has a definite end.

The challenges I face in writing are impossible to explain to someone whose job has results you can see.

There is no timecard. I write until the piece is finished. A writer can “work” for an hour and still have little to nothing. Try telling someone who punches a clock and needs to meet a quota that an hour spent with no tangible results is work.

They won’t buy it. Like I said, I don’t buy it.

This is just one example of the many cultural conflicts that working class students face when they come to UW-Madison. Deeply held convictions the culture has about work – production and sweat, for example - do not identify certain skill sets as being conducive to earning a living.