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Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (original 2018; edition 2018)

by David Graeber (Author)

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223777,948 (4.04)1
Title:Bullshit Jobs: A Theory
Authors:David Graeber (Author)
Info:Simon & Schuster Audio (2018)
Collections:Read but unowned

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Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber (2018)



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Best for:
People interested in labor issues and economic theory.

In a nutshell:
Some jobs don’t serve a purpose. They’re usually paid fairly well, but they don’t need to exist. Why do we as a society allow these jobs to exist, and what are they doing to the people who hold them?

Worth quoting:
“We can probably conclude that at least half of all work being done in our society could be eliminated without making any real difference at all.”
“The underlying assumption is that if humans are offered the option to be parasites, of course they’ll take it. In face, almost every bit of available evidence indicates that this is not the case.”
“How does it come to seem morally wrong to the employer that workers are not working, even if there is nothing obvious for them to do?”

Why I chose it:
It looked kind of interesting. And it was! Kind of.

There is a lot going on in this book, and while the author tries to make it accessible and interesting, it sometimes falls a bit more into the academic text realm than I’d prefer. Additionally, despite the academic appearance, so much of the data supporting the theory is qualitative, which isn’t bad per se, but there isn’t enough quantitative support for the broad statements Graeber offers.

The book grows from an essay on the topic Graeber wrote a few years back for a labor magazine. The premise is that there are many jobs out there that don’t actually need to exist, but do, and at times even pay quite well. He’s interested in exploring not only what this does to the workers who hold these positions, but what it means for society that we all just allow these jobs to exist. Capitalism suggests that such positions will be eliminated as inefficient, but still they persist. Why is that?

Graeber takes us through a quick history of labor in exchange for money, spending a fair bit of time on the concept (relatively new, apparently) that our bosses / companies are paying us for our time as opposed to our work. The idea of not being able to do something personal when you finish your work but are still ‘on the clock’ would have been odd until fairly recently, according to the author. But now we see people having to create work that doesn’t exist to fill their time.

The author spends the first chapters of the book developing a definition of bullshit jobs, which I appreciate. These aren’t shitty jobs, as those ones so ofter serve a purpose. No, these are the jobs that perhaps are middle management, or ‘box tickers.’ He ultimately offers five different categories, and support for them using anecdotes from people who contacted him after his original essay was published.

I want to have gotten more out of this book. I definitely appreciated his argument, especially as it relates to the idea that we all could be working less but our values won’t allow it. But I didn’t finish it feeling as though I had much that I could do. I have to admit to skimming the last chapter where that information would be; at that point my eyes had started to glaze over. I don’t think the book is bad, but maybe it’d be better placed in a serious book club or a course on labor studies.

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  ASKelmore | Apr 21, 2019 |
Only read about half--interesting but lost out in competition of other books to read. It is sad to contemplate the amount of wasted time recounted here while so much of worth and value goes undone because of perverse economics. The main types of bullshit jobs are: flunkies-who make someone else look or feel important; goons-whose jobs have an aggressive component but exist only because they are hired, i.e. a bill collector is a goon but an armed robber is not; duct tapers-who fix problems that ought not to exist, such as incompatibility between the two expensive custom software packages the company invested in; box tickers--exist to let organizations claim to do things they are not actually doing, for example taking surveys that are dutifully recorded but never acted upon; taskmasters who either assign and supervise work that would be done without them, or assign and supervise the other bullshit jobs.
  ritaer | Apr 9, 2019 |
Mildly Interesting. Skimmed. ( )
  bogopea | Oct 1, 2018 |
Highly engaging examination of the nature, causes, and consequences of bullshit work. So much here to chew on. Checked out from the library but I may have to buy a copy to read again and really dig in. ( )
  libraryhead | Aug 28, 2018 |
I've been following David Graeber's work now since not long after "Debt" came out. I always get excited when a new book comes out, and generally the wait is not very long (about once every two years).

In 2013 Graeber published an article in "Strike" called "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs." It was widely read, and even led to some scientific research on the subject. Surveys found that 37% of people describe themselves as having a job that contributes nothing to society, and, if it were to disappear, no one would care or even notice.

In some ways, it's surprising that Graeber was able to pull this book off. It includes a lengthy (and somewhat dry) taxonomy of bullshit jobs created out of hundreds of interviews that Graeber did with willing respondents.

At the core of Graeber's inquiry is the thesis that there's something fundamentally wrong with a society where almost half of it's participants lead a life that is defined by work—work that is simultaneously meaningless. What is the psychological damage done by such an arrangement?

Much of the book is stories from people that reached out to Graeber. Some of them are funny, and some of them are sad. They're all familiar—the sort of thing you're likely familiar with from the TV show, "The Office." Bullshit jobs are predominantly white-collar jobs; people notice immediately when blue-collar workers go on strike, but the same can't be said for many white-collar jobs.

Graeber ends with a pitch for Unconditional Basic Income, with which I whole-heartedly agree. Not only is UBI financially feasible; it's humane, and doesn't require billions of people engaging in destructive behavior every day.

This book goes to the heart of the crisis within Western Culture today. ( )
  willszal | Jul 19, 2018 |
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David Graeberprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vogel, SebastianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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