The relationship between work and life – recognition in a widened concept of work

Project description

Already since 30 years, the debate on "end of work" focuses on holistic concepts which stress the societal and individual importance of unpaid work in relation to paid work. The main idea of these debates (e.g. Bergmann 2004, Rifkin 1996) is to overcome the centrality of paid work on a societal and individual level in order to find new modes of social integration and cohesion. Whereas in the beginning, the debate was motivated from high unemployment rates due to automation, today – facing actual globalisation trends leading currently to flexible, precarious and insecure working conditions – the debate seems to be still highly relevant. It seems that under current working conditions the individual and social dependence on paid work becomes even reinforced in all industrialised countries, whereas at the same time, fields of activities which are dedicated to unpaid work are losing more and more importance (Hochschild 1997, Fraser 2009).

Looking back to the ideas at the beginning of the debate on "end of work", the current development strongly reinforces the need to renew the debates on the role of work in modern capitalist societies. It seems that the strong orientation on market-based work obstructs the view on the manifold potentials of unpaid working spheres. These are not profit oriented but organised in individual spaces. In contrast to paid work, which is strongly related to economic growth and market relations, unpaid work has the potential to open up new spheres in society. It can contribute to changed forms of social cohesion and allows social integration for those excluded from employment or for those suffering from highly precarious employment conditions. Furthermore, it contributes in different ways to a new social contract of work. In this sense, unpaid work serves to support interpersonal relations through personal care relationships or mutual learning between generations. In the perspective of sustainability, it could strengthen political participation and the role of local communities by personal involvement into voluntary charity work or citizen engagement; furthermore reproductive activities like cooking, gardening, or doing handicrafts contribute to sustainable life styles and consumption pattern. Last but not least, in a Marxist perspective on alienation, the individual organisation of unpaid work permits to work in an autonomous and self-determined way, expressing intrinsic values and exploring creative potentials.

In my PhD thesis, the focus lies on the current gap between strong societal orientations on paid work and a simultaneous neglect of unpaid working patterns. Hereby, "recognition" in the approach of Axel Honneth (Honneth 1994) is used to analyse in which way paid work in relation to unpaid work continues to be of such a high individual and societal relevance. On the basis of qualitative case studies in sustainable working concepts in Germany, in a first step prevalent recognition structures of paid work relations are compared with unpaid working patterns. In a second step, specific features of unpaid work are outlined in order to uncover intrinsic qualities and possibilities of individual and societal recognition of unpaid work. On the basis of this analysis, possibilities and constraints for a holistic concept of work are proposed allowing supporting emancipation in the field of work.

Administrative data

Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Birgit Blättel-Mink, Goethe Universität Frankfurt am Main; PD Dr. Stephan Voswinkel, Institut für Sozialforschung (IfS), Frankfurt am Main
Advisor: Bettina-Johanna Krings, M.A.
Related projects: WORKS, Arbeit und Technik
Doctoral students at ITAS: See Doctoral studies at ITAS


Dr. Linda Nierling
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
P.O. Box 3640
76021 Karlsruhe

Tel.: +49 721 608-22509