Abstract: This article draws on interviews, observations, and surveys from two mixed-methods sociological studies of people’s relationships to paid and unpaid work to argue that the concept of the work ethic is a fruitful entry-point for exploring critical issues of work, leisure and consumption in rural places, and indeed anywhere there are efforts to realize degrowth strategies. Then, I survey some of the major themes about work in a selection of widely-cited degrowth writings and argue that the work ethic could use more attention — particularly the question of how the dominant work ethic at any place and time might constrain or enable degrowth as a political-ecological aspiration. This question is actually a hopeful one, because it suggests that in-depth studies of instances where something other than the Protestant, capitalist (i.e. expansion-oriented) work ethic dominates can (and already do!) show us the kinds of culturally-embedded relationships to work that are complimentary to a degrowth agenda. Moreover, such studies show that alternative modes of working are viable. In other words, sociological and anthropological studies can provide empirical evidence that vibrant, meaningful human life can continue in the absence of constant economic growth.
Journal of Political Ecology 24: 633-643.
This is the thirteenth article in Lisa L. Gezon and Susan Paulson (eds.) 2017. “Degrowth, culture and power”, Special Section of the Journal of Political Ecology, 24: 425-666.