Work

In a recent post, Levi Bryant describes entropy:

Entropy is not merely the tendency of systems towards heat death, but is more profoundly the measure of order within a machine. The more improbable relations between elements or parts within a machine the higher its degree of order, while the more probable the location of elements within a system the higher its degree of entropy.

This is something I’d like to expand upon, as I have been thinking a lot in the last several months about this concept of entropy (derived from nonequilibrium physics) and the idea of work.  For most social scientists – particularly those who study the relationship between people and the environment – work is important because it generates knowledge; a farmer knows the land because s/he works the land.  I don’t dispute that, but I think this is not the only reason we should be interested in theorizing work.  Furthermore, I would argue that a focus on the work as knowledge production tends to lead to a valorization of laborers that isn’t necessarily justified in terms of environmentalism or social justice.

My thoughts on work are derived from the theory of entropy described above, and from notions of embodied and situated practices.  For me work is two things: 1) it is the way we alter and affect others, and 2) it is the way we are altered and affected by others.  Work is the way we create order, and the way we are ordered – through flows of energy and resources.  In the most fundamental sense, work is the way we create a world – including ourselves, and in collaboration with other beings around us.  Through work we build, maintain, and destroy relationships.  And we can’t help but do work.

This theory of work includes work as knowledge production, but is not limited to that.  Instead it forces us to open our view to the many ways that we do work, and the many different results of that work.  Whether you’re out in a field planting crops, chopping down trees, building a house, or sitting in an office, you’re doing work and that means you’re making a difference.  The question is, what kind of difference are you making?

Work is directly relevant to almost every aspect of my thought, including the basic premise of this blog – Utopia as a continual process of building a better world.  Making the world better takes work, and it takes paying attention to the ways in which we work and the consequences of that work for ourselves and others.  We want simple solutions and easy answers, but to make a difference takes work.