Work is the dark matter of human experience. In its paid and unpaid forms it occupies the greater part of our waking lives, significantly shaping our social existence and the course of our lives. Indeed, access to its more attractive, fulfilling forms can often make or break a life.

Social scientists have attempted to understand and describe work along with its functions and effects. Others, for example those working within business and management schools, have tried to influence and control work and its practices. But given that work is such a core human activity, and so pivotal to our well-being, questions about the value or disvalue – and the justice or injustice – of work in its various guises warrant more concerted attention than they standardly receive from the more overtly normative disciplines of political theory and moral and social philosophy.

In Western political thought, most conspicuously in the form of ‘labour’, the concept of work has figured centrally in influential theories of property (Locke) and of self-realization, freedom and alienation (Hegel, Marx). But as well as contributions building on these themes, this workshop aims to raise the profile of a wider range of work-related topics and questions. These may include – but are certainly not confined to – the following:

  • The ethics and politics of access to intrinsically rewarding posts
  • Whistleblowing vs collegiality
  • Equality and the power differentials built into most workplaces
  • Personal responsibility when, as in the workplace, one is acting in a collective context
  • The gendered quality of domestic and caring work, waged or otherwise
  • The ‘dignity of work’: of work per se or of work under specifiable conditions?
  • How and why does well-being arise (or fail to arise) from work?
  • Is working supererogatory for those who have the option not to?
  • Market and non-market mechanisms for compensating those who take on essential but intrinsically unrewarding work
  • The ethics of duplicity when it is ‘part of the job’
  • The normative presuppositions and ramifications of employment law
  • The viability and appeal of co-operatives
  • Autonomy, control and self-expression in the modern workplace
  • The fragmentation of the labour force as a political power
  • Virtual work environments and the demise of work as a social and physical practice
  • Alienation – but from whom or what, nowadays?

Call for papers

Please email an abstract (500-750 words) or full paper as an anonymized attachment to with contact details in the body of the email only. Most (and perhaps all) slots will be reserved for talks selected after anonymous review. The workshop programme will consist of refereed proposals plus a (small) number of invited talks. Sessions will probably last an hour and be split equally between presentation and discussion. Deadline: May 15th 2015.


Alex Barber & Sean Cordell (both of Open University). Queries welcome via the address above.

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