Time not free

By analyzing the relationship of work with life lived, Arnaud Franois shows how the consumer society also leads to an increase in working time, while the reduction of needs could also reduce the duration of work that satisfies them.

Arnaud Franois' book published in June 2022 meets the news on work, the social organization of which is discussed on the occasion of the pension reform but also since the pandemic which has shaken up our experiences of life and work. As distinct from a strictly economic approach, the thesis of the book is that these are intimately linked: any organization of work has consequences on the subject who lives them and on the social life that surrounds them. The work simming into the intimate, the conclusion warns of its existential importance:

Politicians must remember: reforming work is not about carrying out a major structural reform which has never been done and which would be required imminently. It is touching an extremely deep, and extremely sensitive articulation, of the individual as well as of society, because it is touching what I do with my time, and so what I do with my life. (pg. 248)

Contemporary research on work is quite fruitful in the human sciences, sociology, psychology and history, but also in philosophy, with analyzes on the democratization of its organization (Alexis Cukier, Democratic Work2017, Isabelle Ferreras, Governing capitalism, 2012, Thomas Coutrot, Free up work, 2018), its value and its social organization (Dominique Mda, Work: a disappearing value?, 1995, Bernard Friot, Work, the issue of pensions, 2019), its aims (Thomas Coutrot and Coralie Perez, Giving meaning back to work, 2022) or even its ecological conversion (Serge Latouche, Work less, work differently or not work at all, 2021, Pierre Charbonnier, Abundance and freedom, 2020). But it is difficult to hold together the multiplicity of life experiences generated by work, which Arnaud Franois manages to do. In employment and beyond, in informal work, digital work, leisure or consumption, or even in the experience of time, individual and collective, he thinks of work in the light of this concept of life: how is life getting to work and how work also transforms life?

An original philosophical perspective

The book analyzes the work from a perspective existential to address the impacts that new modalities of work, linked to new ways of producing and exchanging, have an impact on life (p. 24) and what do and life (p. 29), like lubrication, teleworking or the intensification of the load and work rhythms. This concept of life, often mentioned in public debate without being analyzed, sometimes studied in philosophy from a materialist or biological point of view, is here thought of from a social and political perspective. Marx already shows that capital comes from living labor: it is the reified and accumulated product of the productive activity of workers which is transferred to them. In contemporary capitalism, both biological life and social life are sources of profit. The notion of life also reveals the relationships and affects experienced at work and which continue beyond.

This original perspective is nourished by various corpora: the classic philosophical corpus of Locke, Nietzsche or Spinoza is accompanied by the classic and contemporary Marxist corpus as well as its critical extensions in Hannah Arendt, Andr Gorz, Donna Haraway, Toni Negri and Michael Hardt. Literature also serves as a support for reflection with Zola, of whom Arnaud François is a specialist, Breton or The workbench by Robert Linhart, as well as the speeches of political or union leaders.

While relying on empirical research from the human sciences, the work justifies on various occasions the interest in the philosophical analysis of work. As a reflection on concepts, it confronts theoretical problems neglected by the human sciences, such as those of the definition and value attributed to work. Noting the impossible axiological neutrality of the definition of work and its functions, Arnaud Franois proposes an approach pragmatic which consists of analyzing the effects on reality of the use of the concept of work in general. It serves to provide an activity with remuneration, legal existence and social protection, or even influence practices: critically, work has an axiological role to play (p. 111). Through his reflections on the right and not only on the do, philosophy also questions the legitimacy of the current social organization of work and the existential, moral and social functions assigned to it, such as the distribution of income and social rights. Evidence that has long been naturalized about work is thus located and deconstructed. The work thus considers the possibility of decoupling income from employment, to satisfy needs and guarantee life beyond productive activity, after having analyzed the reasons for the moral resistance that this universal income project generates.

Work, time and life

Analyzing experiences at work and beyond reveals the existential importance of time: work disposes of our life time, which it busy. Its remainder is described as free time and opposes the infinite extension of working hours. Time without work seems empty, but the experience of not having time to live is also fundamentally painful (p. 236). If this approach temporal of life activities seems widespread in the public space, in which we debate the reduction or extension of working time, weekly or over a lifetime, it is less so in academic research on work. Rather, it develops, on the macro scale, through the perspective of its economic valorization, its social organization or its legal institutional conditions, and on the micro scale, through its psychological effects on the subject.

Arnaud Franois' approach is original because it is existential, by revealing the effects, on the subject, individual and collective, in his relationship to time and existence, of certain forms of work organization. Thus, contemporary management deprives workers of the time necessary for the proper completion of their tasks, due to production imperatives presented as incontestable, which has consequences on their self-esteem (p. 165) and on their ability to organize collectively. to oppose it (p. 175). Arnaud Franois suggests that regaining power over this temporal organization of work would allow us to regain the time to do well, by freeing it from additional tasks intended to control and evaluate it.

From temporal analysis emerges a crucial characteristic of work activity: the need for restrict so that it does not invade the entirety of life. A well-performed task is recognized as finished, that is to say complete, according to the conformity criteria defined by expectations expressed before its completion, by the worker or his sponsors, such as his customers: the cooking is finished when the dish is ready be consumed and the plumbing work is completed when the installation is operating. However, contemporary management imposes a logic of unlimited tasks and efforts by encouraging workers to continually surpass their current skills, in search of perpetual improvement. Conversely, reducing collective working hours means freeing up time outside of economic rationality, for political activities or leisure, time for relaxation and pleasure which is distinct from the experience of effort.

Faced with the ecological situation, putting work back into the service of life

At the end of his journey, Arnaud Franois proposes to make work a means to satisfy life while it has become an end in itself and is currently subject to the standards of production and consumption imposed by productivist logic. The work defends a conception of work as an activity instrumental, intended for the satisfaction of needs in the service of life, which is distinguished from the non-utilitarian activities of life, carried out for their intrinsic value. A means to an end, work can be limited if the needs it serves are also limited. This limitation saves the resources it consumes material resources but also life time.

Why do we produce and consume then as much ? With Max Weber and Andr Gorz, the work reveals the artifices of capitalism which push us to work more to earn more and consume more (p. 218). Conversely, it would be possible to limit production to social needs to reduce its negative externalities, notably its destructive effects on ecosystems, the consumption of resources and the life time devoted to it, especially in the industrialized West (p. 57).

This calls for a theory of need, to distinguish its necessary and artificial forms and contents. This could use philosophy, psychology and economics to determine the optimal relationships between work, consumption and production, according to various geographic, ecological, economic and social dynamics:

We consume to maintain a runaway productive machine, and we work to acquire the means to consume; while it would be most useful to ask, on a global scale, what exactly we have today need to produce, and only agree to work accordingly. (pg. 239)

Rather than maintaining or increasing industrial production, the book proposes to reorganize it in an ecologically sustainable way, through a global policy of deproduction and deconsumption adapted to international inequalities in development.

A crucial question arises in the ecological reorganization of production: how to adapt the technical organization and its productivity gains on which the reduction in working time is based, while they are based on fossil energies? Arnaud Franois judges the project to reduce the need for living work to be based on the mechanization and automation of production, which he attributes to Paul Lafargue, defender of right lazinessbut which we also find among the thinkers of the end of work like Jeremy Rifkin less ecologically defensible (p. 217) than their time. This crucial question remains to be explored: what ecological use can be made of the technical progress inherited from capitalism?? It is already a question of freeing oneself from the belief according to which more is more (p. 220), supported and amplified by consumer engineering and information and communication techniques, which increase its rhythms and volumes. If the replacement of certain energy-intensive production techniques undoubtedly requires an increase in human labor as in agriculture, it is not certain that the entire ecological reorganization of production requires an overall increase in human labor, if this is limited to needs.

From this ecological perspective, we can also wonder how transformations in the material conditions of life, especially global warming and rising temperatures, will alter the experience of work. It is perhaps life, its conditions of preservation and its conditions of possibility, which will force us to radically reorganize work.