How Work as a Category of Thought Has Been Disrupted in Neoliberal Capitalist Societies

  • Marie-Anne Dujarier Université Paris Cité
Keywords: category of thought, category of practice, work, labour, digital, free labour, employment, institutions, Capitalocene


This article summarises and presents the main findings of Marie-Anne Dujarier’s French book Troubles dans le travail (2021). It focuses on the “travail” category of thought and practice in France, where it has become a ubiquitous and moral notion. The article traces the history of its social uses, highlighting its polysemy with respect to vernacular and scientific uses, then its limited meaning when used in institutions. It examines contemporary situations in which activity requiring effort, the production of use or exchange values, and the status of employment and remuneration are disconnected. Their frequency and importance cast doubt on who is working and when. This disruption in the “work” category of thought indicates that the eponymous institutions do not adequately accommodate real practices. They are therefore questioned. This observation is also an invitation for researchers to unpick this word for a better analysis of contemporary social, psychological and ecological issues. In France, the word “travail” is ubiquitous in our day-to-day exchanges, as well as in our scientific and political discussions (“travail” is often translated as ‘work’ or ‘labour’, translations are part of the history of the category). Although regularly given only one value, it also has a moral domain. But what does it mean? This article offers Anglo-Saxon readers a summary of in-depth sociological research on this issue, published in the book called Work Troubles. Sociology of a category of thought (French original title: Troubles dans le travail. Sociologie d’une catégorie de pensée) by the author of this article.

Author Biography

Marie-Anne Dujarier, Université Paris Cité

Marie-Anne Dujarier is professor of sociology at Université Paris Cité. Her research examines contemporary activity in employment by states and capitalist firms, in market places, and also in consumption practice. She is the author of many books in French and articles in English, such as: “The three sociological types of consumer work”, Journal of Consumer Culture, April 8 2014, 1-17, “The activity of the consumer: strengthening, transforming or contesting capitalism?”, The Sociological Quarterly, Volume 56, Issue 3, 2015, 460-471 and “Up to the financial elites, or Out to the menial world: Figuring out companies as commodities: a key to stay in the M&A sector”, with V. Boussard, in Finance At Work, Boussard (dir.), Routledge, 2017, 29-41, also “Vertical division of labour: A sociology of work of remote organisers”, Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation, 2019, 7-19.