The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century: A Reprint


  • Harry Braverman



Political Economy, Labor


My topic this evening is the "degradation of work in the twentieth century," and there is one firm generalization with which we may begin—that is, that humanity is a working species. Our relationship with nature is not merely one of food-gathering or seeking shelter in the crevices provided ready-made by nature. Rather humanity takes the materials provided by nature and alters them into objects more useful to itself. Humanity works in order to live, to provide itself with the means and provisions of life. Thus even though men and women often have occasion to complain of work as a constraint laid upon the species, there is never any doubt that work as a species characteristic is as natural to human life as grazing or hunting are to other species. But it would be the greatest of all possible mistakes to take any simple truisms of this sort, whether in the form of Biblical laments or biological and evolutionary constraints, as the direct basis for an analysis of work in modern society. Between biology and sociology, civilization—with all of its social relations and institutions—intervenes.