Accepted paper:

Was Fourier's "joy in work" so utopic? Researching work and pleasure in the 21st century


Marie-Pierre Gibert (Université Lumière Lyon 2-EVS)

Paper short abstract:

While discourses today underline negative aspects of work, ethnography of work settings permits to nuance this view. This paper tries to go beyond the opposition work VS pleasure by focusing on the articulation constraints/satisfactions in work. Fourier’s utopian perspective on work might help us.

Paper long abstract:

In the 1820s, the philosopher C. Fourier proposed a social model based on the conception that work can be a source of pleasure. He suggested a new way of communal life in which his notion of "joy in work" could be experienced, but this remained an utopian model as such. In the 2000s, while many discourses are mainly underlining the aspects of "suffering" in the conception of work or labour, a close ethnography of work/labour settings permits us to nuance this negative view. How can Fourier's utopian perspective on work help us rethink today's situation? In this paper, I wish to go beyond the common opposition made between work and pleasure by focusing on the articulation between constraints and "satisfaction" (Applebaum 1984) and "meaningfulness" (Spittler 2008:14) of work. I will first examine professions for which the notion of work is perceived as vastly overlapping the notion of pleasure (artists, and in a reflexive counterpoint, academics), although constraints of several kinds are very present. In contrast, activities rarely perceived as providing some pleasure - whereas there is little doubt that there is some meaningfulness or satisfaction in such activities - will be explored. Thus, I argue that whilst the combination of work and pleasure is often seen and/or perceived as mainly existing for some activities and not for other, it might be more productive to look at pleasure as one of the motors for work in every experience, though in different manners which are calling for in depth investigation.

panel P063
Anthropological utopias: debating personal, political and idealist expectations in the intersection of theory and ethnographic practice