Daily Archives: Jan 23, 2021 at 08:06 am EST

Book Bits: 23 January 2021

Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots
James Suzman
Review via The New Yorker
In “Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots” (Penguin Press), the South African anthropologist James Suzman, a specialist on the Khoisan peoples, disputes the economic definition of “work.” One culture’s work is another’s leisure; one people’s needs are, to another people, mere wants. Suzman proposes, instead, to define “work” as “purposefully expending energy or effort on a task to achieve a goal or end,” a definition so committed to its universality as to risk becoming meaningless. He insists that the key word here is “purposeful”: to act purposefully is to understand cause and effect. Among the traits that distinguish Homo sapiens from other primates, Suzman argues, is this capacity, which—because of humans’ harnessing of, for instance, fire—makes possible a different relationship to provisioning.

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