Three: Theories of work and society

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This chapter will introduce the concept of production, by exploring the sociological contributions of Marx and Durkheim to the study of work in a capitalist society. The impact of changing patterns of paid work (including patterns of male and female employment) will be analysed in this framework. Finally, alienation will be introduced and discussed as a concept of importance in the study of work and society.

The concept of production has a lengthy history within sociology and one of the first writers who dealt with the subject was Karl Marx. Marx argued that production is essential to human survival and that we all need to produce; the term has come to be related to both the process and organisation of production. A more accessible way to understand the concept is to think about work.

Work can be conceptualised in a number of ways:

  • As an activity – this is quite simply what we do. Social workers, for example, may undertake many different activities as part of their job, such as visiting people, attending meetings, filling in forms, writing reports and going to court.

  • As a process – this includes all of the above as part of a continuing process in, for example, ensuring the safety of a child. The process also includes contact with other people within the place of work, including supervisors.

  • As organisation – this focuses on how the work is organised and includes management structures and aspects of managerial and organisational control.

You will probably recognise that social workers do not actually ‘produce’ anything that other people would recognise as a ‘product’, unlike someone who works in a car factory.

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