Andrea Komlosy


On her book Work: The Last 1,000 Years

Cover Interview of March 18, 2018


This book follows a historical approach. It challenges the reader by offering theoretical concepts for interpreting the changing meaning and interpretation of work throughout history. At the same time, I hope to contribute to contemporary debates.

The current debate about work—and its eventual substitution by robots, whether enthusiastically applauded or rejected—is still shaped by a Euro-centric, male, big-industry notion of work, that reduces work to gainful employment that opens access to wages (income) and social security. Viewed from a global perspective that includes all types of workers, gainful employment appears to be but one form of work alongside others. The history of work is a history of combining paid and unpaid, formal and informal, free and unfree work by individuals and within families, households, companies, and commodity chains. Women’s studies and feminist historians have been challenging the division between production and reproduction, public and private for a long time. When their findings are intertwined with global perspectives, work can be conceived in its greater complexity, and we begin to see interconnections that change with economic conjunctures, business cycles, and technologies.

The historical perspective and a broader understanding of work—including gainful employment, care and housework, voluntary work for the community, as well as personal training and education—may help us to overcome fears, or hopes, expressed in current discussions, that work might disappear altogether. We can address the deep and ongoing transformation of labor relations both in the former industrialized countries in the West and the newly industrializing countries in the Global South on the basis of a broad and flexible understanding of work in its toilsome and fulfilling expressions.