International Change

Topics: Sociology, Capitalism, Anthropology Pages: 8 (1861 words) Published: April 30, 2014


International Change and the Social World I



Transformations in work change societies.

In today’s modern capitalist societies, nearly every aspect our lives are structured around the notion and routine of work. Work has the ability to influence how we interact with society and our position within it, from where we decide to live, to the types of activities that we choose to participate in. In our capitalist society life is structured around a means of producing a profit in a market economy and advancing ones position in the social structure. This form of living is a stark contrast to the structure of what we will call traditional societies, where even the term ‘work’ was virtually non-existent (Schwimmer, 1980). These societies were formed around notions of kinship and the idea of belonging, a society where status and class did not exist (Griffith University, 2011, pp. 15). Work was not considered a routine but rather it was inextricably interwoven with ideas of reciprocity, routine and leisure. The ideas of profit and paid labour did not exist in these societies, as the lack of an economy did not arise the need. Looking at the ways that the routine and ideas about work have changed can show us how society has developed into the modern capitalist society that we see today.

The Indigenous people of Australia can be seen as an example of a traditional society, where there was no definitive notion of work. Jack McLaren, as discussed by Henry Reynolds (Reynolds, 1981), states that the Indigenous people of Australia, when forced to work by European settlers proclaimed ‘that in their habitual mode of life they worked not at all’. These types of traditional societies had set methods of survival that didn’t require ‘work’ as we see it today, rather it was a part of everyday routine where ‘each activity can be named specifically but there is not generic term that could refer’ to work (Schwimmer, 1980). It is also quite difficult to separate work in these societies from everyday social practices (Griffith University, 2011, pp.21-25). Most notable is that there is no paid labour, all activities are partaken in voluntarily and are usually done so as to benefit the whole community rather than the individual alone. Further activity is inextricably interwoven with social practice and ritual, as can be seen by the inclusion of magic ritual in the building of Kula Canoe (Malinowski, 1922). Uneven intensities of effort and its link with ritual and social practice, makes it difficult to separate most activities in traditional societies from what we would classify as leisure (Griffith University, 2011, pp. 20-23). Modern thinking applies time frames and intense hard labour to the idea and notions of work. Leisure requires ‘time-off’ from these activities and for the activity of work to have a definitive start and finish, however it is difficult to find this distinction in traditional societies.

For transformations in work and society to occur then we need some form of what we today label as an ‘economy’ to arise. As Karl Polanyi states ‘no society could, naturally, live for any length of time unless it possessed and economy of some sort’ (Polanyi, 1971). Economy then, in a traditional sense relates to the production and distribution of goods, which are organised socially on the basis of supply and demand. This process according to Polanyi in traditional societies was not done as a process of obtaining material goods but rather he labels it a ‘mans economy’, which was inextricably linked with social relationships (Polanyi, 1971). That is to say that man will only value material goods in order to improve his social standing, claims and assets (Reading Seven), and that the ultimate goal is maximising pleasure whilst minimising pain. Man would not keep his possessions to show his power but rather share them with the...
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