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  • The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries by Kathi Weeks
  • Diane Morgan
Kathi Weeks. The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. Paperback, 287 pp. $22.11, ISBN 9780822351122.

The illuminated building is surrounded by nocturnal darkness. Visibly displayed are people working late at the office. The cover of Kathi Weeks’s excellent book clearly sets the scene for her analysis of the problems we might well have—or should have—with work in its current configuration. One apparently has to work, but it is also supposed to be “good” to work; one should always try to work more, be more performative, exert oneself more, put in the extra hours to become more efficient. Drawing on Weber’s analysis of the Protestant work ethic and its constitutive contradictions, Weeks wants us to question this productivist model of the “ever more” that can cost us so dearly. She sets out to render strange our relation to work, calling into question its obviousness: Why is work so often represented as an end in itself, of benefit to us as individuals? If work is also a means to an end, of necessity to us for survival, do we nevertheless really need to accept dominant forms of organizing our working activities? Aren’t different approaches to work feasible? How about beginning with a refusal to be defined by whether we work or not, by what work we do or do not do, by how much or how little we work? Let’s be radical and imagine a “postwork future”!

Her “utopian demand,” which promises to contribute to remodeling society as a whole, is for a basic income, paid to all regardless of whether one [End Page 146] officially works or not or, presumably, whether one already has vast reserves of inherited wealth or not (137). Not even indexed to recognized “socially useful” activities, this basic income would guarantee a satisfactory standard of living for all. Life, its production and reproduction, is thereby unhitched from its supposedly necessary tie with, often hard, work (139).

However, “getting a life” should itself be no easy affair. Indeed, Weeks draws on Nietzsche, Bloch, and Deleuze to demonstrate how the “utopian imagination” she invokes stretches our habitual ways of thinking and doing, challenging us not to “embrace the life we have, the life that has been made for us—the life of a consumer or a worker—but the one that we might want.” Weeks then adds a coda: “This is not to say that it is an individual life. Rather . . . it is a life of singularities rather than individualities . . . a life that is common to and shared with others without being the same as theirs” (232). However, it is less obvious, given the lack of persuasive or coercive enforcement in her utopian proposition for a basic income for all regardless of one’s social outlook and contribution, how extra-individualistic participation and preoccupations can be assumed in this way.

What is particularly challenging about Weeks’s analysis is that she is not simply turning her back on work and advocating an opting out of its constraints, a solution that would be available only to the minority. Instead her proposals could lead to a different investment in “work.” Armed with the theories and practices of the Italian Autonomist Marxists (such as those of Negri, Virno, and Bifo), Weeks predicates her exorbitant demand for a guaranteed basic income for all on four radical stances that could resist, destabilize, and displace the regimes currently governing work. These objectionable attitudes are “an insubordination to the work ethic, a skepticism about the virtues of self-discipline for the sake of capital accumulation, an unwillingness to cultivate, simply on principle, a good ‘professional’ attitude about work, and a refusal to subordinate all of life to work” (77; my italics). Work is to become a variety of activities one autonomously decides to do or not. Keenly aware of how “giving one’s all” has been all too co-opted by managerial policies that claim to be providing for our health, safety, and general well-being in order to best extract the...