1.321 Working Relations

Michael P. Ford
Oct 7, 2020 · 6 min read

The “way in which manual labor is applied to production can range in different societies from the coercion of machine guns, bullets and trucks to the mass ideological conviction of the voluntary industrial army. Our own liberal democratic society is somewhere in between.”¹⁰⁷ The sociologist takes the same basic observation and restates it in terms of “the experience of labor” in general: “The experience of labor lies between two extremes, forced labor, which is determined only by external constraint, and scholastic labor, the limiting case which is the quasi-ludic activity of the artist-writer. The further someone moves from the former, the less they work directly for money and the more the ‘interest’ of work, the inherent gratification of the fact of working the work, increases — as does the interest linked with the symbolic profits associated with the name of the occupation or the occupation status and the quality of the working relations which often go hand in hand with the intrinsic interest of labor. (It is because work in itself provides a profit that the loss of employment entails a symbolic mutilation which can be attributed as much to the loss of the raison d’être associated with work and the world of work as to the loss of the wage.)”¹⁰⁸ Strictly speaking, labor is activity that “can be directed towards an exclusively economic goal, the one that money, hence forward the measure of all things, starkly designates.”¹⁰⁹ The importance of the sociologist’s observations is that they lend themselves to a certain visual accounting or mapping of the underlying situation (see Figure 1.19).

Fig. 1.19

The two limiting cases identified by the sociologist, “forced labor” and “scholastic labor,” can be represented by vectors that are identical in terms of direction and sense yet vary in magnitude.¹¹⁰ The two limiting cases can be conceived as the minimum and maximum limits in the possible variation in the magnitude of the labor vector. We will say that those who “work directly for money” tend toward the minimum limit, i.e. the shortest magnitude; and those who work for other reasons, for example “the ‘interest’ of work, the inherent gratification of the fact of performing work,” tend toward the maximum limit, i.e. the longest magnitude. It will become increasingly apparent that the importance of such an analysis lies in the fact that in and of themselves the dimensions of the vector (magnitude, direction and sense) are not “measured by the yardstick of monetary profit”.¹¹¹

Such considerations tell only half of the story. What the sociologist calls “the twofold truth of labor” cannot be understood apart from considerations of “employer’s strategies,” of profit-taking, capital and the agents of capital. Recognizing this, we use the phrase “working relations” to designate a social aggregate that accounts for the conjunction of labor and capital, relations of production and property relations, the specific combination of revenue-producing activity systems and the mechanisms of control and monopoly appropriation of profits. Both sides of society’s working relations can be represented as vectors, with capital or property relations appearing as a vector the sense of which is determined to move away from money-profit (p in Figure 1.20).

Fig. 1.20

The sociologist’s characterization of the margin of freedom that can be used to distinguish particular forms of labor is analogous to a problem concerning capital when he speaks of different “forms of capital”: “economic,” “social,” “cultural” as well as “the symbolic effects of capital”.¹¹² We can then speak of an ambiguity of capital that would take into account the difference between the capitalist, on the one hand, and the agents of capital, on the other. Assuming as much, we will say that the ambiguity of labor and that of capital differ in kind and this difference can be easily visualized: on the one hand, labor moves unambiguously toward money-wage (the moment when wealth buys labor as labor’s destination or aggregate of arrival), its ambiguity resides in its origo or aggregate of departure, represented by variations in the magnitude of the labor vector; on the other hand, the ambiguity of capital is precisely the opposite, as now it is the origo or point of departure that is unambiguous and the ultimate destination or aggregate of arrival that is ambiguous.

The margin of freedom left to the worker, the same margin that the sociologist associates with an “increase in [a worker’s] well-being,” invariably produces a kind of blindness: those who enjoy a certain health determined by “the real conditions of the performance of [their] labor” are those who fall prey to a “misrecognition” or “miscognition of the objective truth of labor as exploitation”.¹¹³ In this way, we can speak of the “well-being” of the worker without sounding utopian or witlessly contributing to society’s innumerable forms of “symbolic violence”.¹¹⁴ This is why it is important to deal with the matter at the level of society’s working relations: without denying the fact that the more labor invests in work the less it recognizes the conditions of exploitation, when such an investment reaches its maximum level (the point, presumably, at which labor becomes a “quasi-ludic activity”), misrecognition of the conditions of exploitation gives way to a recognition of an entirely different order. The question then becomes what does the blindness or miscognition of quasi-ludic activity allow us to see? Answering such a question is assisted by referring to another figure derived by superimposing the previous two figures (see Figure 1.21). The resulting figure depicts the dealership’s working relations as essentially determined by a certain conjunction of labor and capital: labor effectively runs into money-wages (w) and capital runs away with money-profit (p).

Fig. 1.21

Are the two sides of society’s working relations related in other, perhaps, profound ways? Do their respective forms of ambiguity correspond or co-vary in any systematic or predictable way? In fact, these questions lend themselves to empirical investigation, with the simplest possible case involving a labor vector tending toward the minimum limit (corresponding to Marx’s “wage labor”).¹¹⁵ According to the sociologist, it is precisely in such a case that labor clearly recognizes the conditions of exploitation that define the capitalist mode of production: in effect, those who labor directly for money-wages stare capital in the face. Having stated the problem in these terms, empirical observation suggests that the sociologist’s “objective truth” is a function of bilateral symmetry — that is, a one-to-one mapping of labor onto capital as a function of society’s working relations, with wage labor on the left and the mechanism of monopoly appropriation of profits or private property on the right. In the following section, we will see that the correlation or co-variation between labor and capital continues, especially at magnitudes tending toward the maximum extension of society’s working relations.

[107] Paul Willis, Learning to Labor: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Job, p.1.

[108] Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations (Stanford University Press, 2000), pp.202–3.

[109] Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, p.117. Bourdieu adds, the “discovery of labor presupposes the constitution of the common ground of production, that is, the disenchanting of a natural world reduced to its economic dimension alone.”

[110] At this point, we are simply relying on a dictionary definition of the term “vector” which “requires for its complete specification a magnitude, direction and sense and that is commonly represented by a line segment the length of which designates the MAGNITUDE of the vector, the orientation of which designates the DIRECTION of the vector, and the SENSE of which is designated by an arrowhead at one end of the segment” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary).

[111] Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, p.117.

[112] Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, p.242. See also P. Bourdieu, “The Forms of Capital,” in John G. Richardson, ed. Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education (Greenwood Press, 1986), pp.241–58.

[113] Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditation, p.202.

[114] Ibid, pp.164–205.

[115] Pierre Bourdieu, Pascalian Meditations, p.202n29.




Using the representational strategy most congruent with its subject matter ― Plato’s “likely story” ― Salesmanism is the first of a two-volume publishing program that answers Albert Lautman’s call by attempting to “remake the Timaeus”.

Michael P. Ford

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Public Servant, Independent Scholar & Social Entrepreneur


Using the representational strategy most congruent with its subject matter ― Plato’s “likely story” ― Salesmanism is the first of a two-volume publishing program that answers Albert Lautman’s call by attempting to “remake the Timaeus”.

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