The culture industry and division of labour


The division of labour is the specialisation of cooperating individuals who perform specific tasks and roles.

It is thought of as perhaps supremely alienating by Marxists, though I never found out why that really is, I think?

Is it conceivable that we are all labouring to create culture, now?


Posted 2014-09-05T09:56:37.523


Well there's culture; and there's kultcha. I'd say we're all laboring (pardon my Yank spelling) to create the latter. There's very little of the former these days. – user4894 – 2014-09-06T23:09:51.440

most art theorists would say that high / low brow culture is blurred now – None – 2014-09-07T22:56:42.717



The question is not the division of labour; after all it takes several kinds of skills to build a house - say an architect and a builder; but the atomisation of labour in factories where very small and discrete tasks are set. Thus reducing 'artisans' to mere tools.

This is just one dimension to the notion of alienation.

This idea, which may seem 'Marxist' in orientation was actually introduced by Adam Smith who wrote in his Wealth of Nations:

"The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.

The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgement concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life...

But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it."

and echoed by Marx:

Marx argued that increasing the specialization may also lead to workers with poorer overall skills and a lack of enthusiasm for their work. He described the process as alienation: workers become more and more specialized and work becomes repetitive, eventually leading to complete alienation from the process of production. The worker then becomes "depressed spiritually and physically to the condition of a machine".

It was here that the concept of alienation was isolated; but this is only one dimension of said concept.

For Simone Weil, a Marxist intrellectuel who worked in a French factory for three months she discovered that a factory creates:

"une docilité de bête de somme résignée"

("the docility of a resigned beast of burden").

and she had also written in her notebooks that the speed itself of factory work deadens the soul, whilst orders that one have to accept deaden consciousness.

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2014-09-05T09:56:37.523

Reputation: 1

1I mean this is also kind of the kernel of it: the transition from tool to machine, artisan/peasant to factory labor; social knowledge in human minds and hands versus being "reified" in industrial machines, automated processes, etc – Joseph Weissman – 2014-09-06T14:49:24.843

@weissman: sure; I'm don't quite understand the distinction that you are making between 'tool' and 'machine'; I think this is one thing that I find difficult with Deleuze - his reduction of all to machines of one kind or another. The artisan, to me includes the professionally skilled such as engineers and lawyers, rather than skilled labour. – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-09-06T15:10:02.893

This transition from ("human-mastered") tools to ("automatic") industrial machines is to my mind one of the key senses of Marxian alienation -- partly because of this shift in the nature and location of social knowledge; but maybe I'm missing something here? – Joseph Weissman – 2014-09-06T15:12:28.150

I mean to say this is what Marx himself talks about in terms of the alienation of labor: the expropriation not just of the results but of "meaningful" work which "improves" the individual. It is not just a question of self- versus externally-directed work; but the nature and quality of your life as a worker, the de-skilling effect of automation, the way knowledge is increasingly locating in human-autonomous technical processes, abstractions, etc – Joseph Weissman – 2014-09-06T15:15:49.510

@weissman: Its an important dimension and not just from a Marxist perspective; Keynes, one of the classical economists, touched upon it in one of his papers. I was thinking of 'tool' in a Kantian context, as solely a means and not an end; but I doubt if Kant used this word in that sense; its my 'own' terminology, where I supposed it would be easily understood in that sense. – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-09-06T15:19:42.070

1@weissman: yes, that is true - and its why I said just one dimention of alienation; and its also important; in undivided labour, one owns the work - thats easy; but in undivided labour, who owns it is a much more difficult question. – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-09-06T15:22:09.470

I mean the core of alienation is stratification into social classes; industrial machines just objectify capitalisms devaluation of labor – Joseph Weissman – 2014-09-06T15:22:14.993

Anyway sorry for provoking discussion here, let's maybe take some of this up in chat sometime – Joseph Weissman – 2014-09-06T15:23:17.303

i googled atomization of labour and marx and found no hits. – None – 2014-09-07T15:50:56.427

and neologisms don't help googling – None – 2014-09-07T22:42:07.323

without google i can't tell / remember if you're running together separate points – None – 2014-09-07T22:55:14.210

yeah the term i think is "technical division of labour" and is peculiar to capitalism, unlike "social division of labour" as in between capitalists... both are alienating. – None – 2014-09-07T23:15:52.330


I take it the Marxist critique often called the "division of labor" is about a couple of things at once:

  1. The reconfiguration of work from a communal affair -- all farming in the field to working in factories producing goods for people you never see
  2. The corresponding introduction of class where there is now a laboring class and a management class and a bourgeois class that buys the goods and has the numbers to keep the laboring peasants down. (Here, we are talking about what Hegel calls recognition, i.e. Master and Slave).


Posted 2014-09-05T09:56:37.523

Reputation: 23 970

could you please add to the hegel citation, as unfortunately i know nothing about the master slave dialectic esp wrt marx – None – 2014-09-09T21:05:12.170


Smith argued in his magnum opus,that the division of labour is not a human invention,rather it is a natural phenomena. We have not created cooperate alienation culture rather it is a natural invention.


Posted 2014-09-05T09:56:37.523

Reputation: 11

Do you have a quote that demonstrates this? The quote in my answer demonstrates that he deplored certain aspects of it - but doesn't demonstrate how he conceptualised its origins. – Mozibur Ullah – 2014-09-11T05:13:08.377