Work: The Last 1,000 Years

Regular price $ 26.95

by Andrea Komlosy

Verso Books

03/27/2018, hardcover

SKU: 9781786634108


Say the word "work," and most people think of some form of gainful employment. Yet this limited definition has never corresponded to the historical experience of most people -- whether in colonies, developing countries, or the industrialized world.

That gap between common assumptions and reality grows even more pronounced in the case of women and other groups excluded from the labour market.

In this important intervention, Andrea Komlosy demonstrates that popular understandings of work have varied radically in different ages and countries. Looking at labour history around the globe from the thirteenth to the twenty-first centuries, Komlosy sheds light on both discursive concepts as well as the concrete coexistence of multiple forms of labour -- paid and unpaid, free and unfree. From the economic structures and ideological mystifications surrounding work in the Middle Ages, all the way to European colonialism and the industrial revolution, Komlosy's narrative adopts a distinctly global and feminist approach, revealing the hidden forms of unpaid and hyper-exploited labour which often go ignored, yet are key to the functioning of the capitalist world-system.

Work: The Last 1,000 Years will open readers' eyes to an issue much thornier and more complex than most people imagine, one which will be around as long as basic human needs and desires exist.


"Capturing this churn [in both work itself and our ideas about it] is the difficult task that historian Andrea Komlosy attempts in her new book Work: The Last 1,000 Years... Komlosy attempts the monumental task of writing a large-scale global history of labor adequate to the growing instability in how we define and participate in work." -- Gabriel Winant, Nation

"Komlosy's analysis is a helpful reminder that our familiar understanding of work is narrow and historically exceptional. The hierarchy we have established in the industrialized West, placing permanent, full-time, legally contracted wage work at the top of a pyramid of social good, is deeply flawed -- denigrating not only those millions who work outside its confines, but also devaluing and neglecting the kinds of nonwork activities that enrich and give meaning to human lives. By showing that 'work' may exist without wages, a boss or a workplace outside the home, Komlosy's analysis allows us to think more broadly about what we value, and whether we want to continue to separate work and life." -- Joanna Scutts, In These Times

About the Author:

Andrea Komlosy is Professor in the Department of Economics and Social History at the University of Vienna, Austria, where she coordinates the Global History and Global Studies programmes. She has published on labour, migration, borders and uneven development on a regional, European and global context. She was also a 2014/2015 Schumpeter Fellow at Harvard University's Weatherhead Center for International Relations.