RACHEL BELLE

‘The Problem with Work’: Addressing America’s obsession with work

May 31, 2017, 6:09 PM | Updated: 11:33 pm
problem with work...
(Photo by Jim Rosebery, CC Images)
(Photo by Jim Rosebery, CC Images)
LISTEN: 'The Problem With Work' : A new book addresses America's obsession with work

When making small talk, adults quickly resort to perhaps the most common question of all: what do you do? But in places like France, asking this question at a dinner party is considered rude. American culture has a strange love affair with work.

We don’t take all of our paid vacation days and many people have much of their identity wrapped up in what they do for money. A new book questions how we consider work in this country. It’s called “The Problem with Work: A Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries” and it’s written by a person with a job. Kathi Weeks is professor at Duke University, but she lives in Seattle during summers.

RELATED: Bothell company makes self-cleaning keyboard

“I wanted to look at work as a social organizing principle and also a cultural preoccupation, because I think we’re obsessed with work,” Weeks said. “We have so many ideas and hopes about what work will do for us as individuals. I really wanted to talk about the ways that work is failing us.”

The problem with work

For one, do we all really need to be working 40 hours a week? That’s the sort of question Weeks puts out there with “The Problem with Work.”

“The 40 hour week is pretty new, historically,” she said. “It was really set in place right around and after World War II. Before that, worker’s movements had been lobbying for the 12 hour day, for the 10 hour day, for the eight hour day and somehow magically it stops at 40 hours and we imagine somehow it’s set in stone.”

“If people talk about shortening the workday they say, ‘Oh, but the economy would collapse,'” Weeks said. “But that’s exactly what they said when they were lobbying for the 12 hour day and the eight hour day. I don’t think that’s true. I think, like a lot of people, there are some of us who are working towards imagining a 30 hour week with no decrease in pay as a way to make work sustainable, to distribute work and make work available to more people.”

She says we often spend our non-working hours just recovering from being on the job.

Weeks is in favor of all Americans getting a guaranteed basic income, a government supplied sum that allows low income workers to prosper and gives higher earners more choices. It could also allow overworked employees to give up some of their work hours to people who need/want it.

“I think it would give workers a better bargaining position to demand from employers better working conditions and hours,” she said. “I think it would give more of us choices about what kinds of household arrangements we want to be part of. Because I think sometimes now people end up forced, by economic circumstances, into certain kinds of family and household relationships. If they had access to income they might be allowed to make other kinds of choices.”

She knows it’s a confusing and potentially unpopular concept in a society built on capitalism.

“I think when some people react [by asking]: how is this feasible? I always want to say, but how is the wage system feasible?” Weeks said. “There are too many of us that have been failed by these institutions that don’t make room for us. They’re unsustainable and they’re incomplete. So if the wage system isn’t working, what other ideas do we have? And I think a guaranteed basic income is a potential alternative.”

Weeks simply asks us to question the current system. To not take it at face value.

  • listen to rachel belleTune in to KIRO Radio on weekdays to hear Rachel Belle.
Who is Rachel Belle?

Your Last Meal

Rachel Belle

Nadiya Hussain...
Rachel Belle

New ‘Your Last Meal’: British Bake Off winner, Spice Waala brings Indian street food to Seattle

As a child, Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain, felt frustrated that her dad served watered down, westernized Indian food at his restaurants.
6 days ago
Toxic positivity...
Rachel Belle

Seattle psychotherapist on how to cope with ‘season of toxic positivity’

Telling your loved ones to look on the bright side when they're feeling down is toxic positivity, and no one likes to hear it. Not even you.
13 days ago
birthday cake...
Rachel Belle

‘Your Last Meal’ podcast explores history of why we eat cake and light candles for birthdays

We all eat birthday cake, but have you ever wondered why? Award-winning chef Christina Tosi dives in on the latest episode of "Your Last Meal."
19 days ago
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is not holding a fluffernutter in this photo, but he is holdi...
MyNorthwest Staff

Dave Ross, Rachel Belle on how ‘fluffernutter’ made it into the dictionary

Fluffernutter is now in the dictionary. KIRO Radio's Dave Ross and Rachel Belle discuss that and the other new words (and phrases) that made the cut.
20 days ago
Caspar Babypants...
Rachel Belle

Seattle rocker Chris Ballew is retiring Caspar Babypants, moving on from kids’ music

After 19 albums and 13 years as Caspar Babypants, Seattle's Chris Ballew is moving on to yet another a new musical project.
21 days ago
Seattle, anxiety...
MyNorthwest Staff

KIRO Radio hosts attempt to solve Seattle’s anxiety problem

A new study out of the U.S. Census Bureau has found that Seattle is ranked as the most anxious metro area in the country. KIRO Radio weighs in.
23 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
...

Delayed-Onset PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers SPONSORED — You’re probably familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Often abbreviated as PTSD, this condition is diagnosed when a person experiences a set of symptoms for at least a month after a traumatic event. However, for some people, these issues take longer to develop. This results in a diagnosis of delayed-onset PTSD […]
...

Medicare open enrollment ends Dec. 7. Free unbiased help is here!

Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner SPONSORED — Medicare’s Open Enrollment Period, also called the Annual Election Period, is Oct. 15 to Dec. 7. During this time, people enrolled in Medicare can: Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan and vice versa. Join, drop or switch a Part D prescription drug plan, […]
...

How to Have a Stress-Free Real Estate Experience

The real estate industry has adapted and sellers are taking full advantage of new real estate models. One of which is Every Door Real Estate.
...
IQ Air

How Poor Air Quality Is Affecting Our Future Athletes

You cannot control your child’s breathing environment 100% of the time, but you can make a huge impact.
...
Swedish Health Services

Special Coverage: National Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

There are a wide variety of treatment options available for men with prostate cancer. The most technologically advanced treatment option in the Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform.
‘The Problem with Work’: Addressing America’s obsession with work