Amy Lavender Harris
Centre for Industrial Relations
University of Toronto

Industrial Relations
Environmental Philosophy

Toward A Phenomenology of Work

Research in the theory of industrial relations, 2005
Comments welcomed.
Please do not use or cite without permission.

Amy Lavender Harris, B.A. (Hons.), M.PL.

Working Summary of Research Aims

This research seeks to make room for a phenomenology of work within industrial relations. My research begins with the observation that despite their potential contributions (both practical and explanatory) to the domain, industrial relations theory has largely excluded phenomenological approaches and inferences, deriding them as insufficiently empirical or associating them with other disciplines (e.g., psychology and organizational behaviour). At the same time, however, Marx's concept of the alienated worker (a reasonably well accepted part of IR theory) bears remarkable similarity to the view elucidated by the philosopher and phenomenologist Martin Heidegger that the essence of modern technology reduces workers to "standing reserve". Moreover, a small body of literature on the philosophy of work has linked Hegelian and Marxian notions to questions of meaning and (particularly) identity, questions which in my view beg to be taken up in phenomenological inquiry. Some empirical studies of work (most notably the fieldwork informing Shoshana Zuboff's well-known In the Age of the Smart Machine) have adopted a phenomenological approach; however these studies are not at all well integrated into the industrial relations domain. It is my objective to tie these disparate threads together into a coherent rationale for a phenomenology of work within industrial relations.

Research Presentation

Toward a Phenomenology of Work
(clicking on link opens MS Powerpoint presentation)

9 November 2005
Centre for Industrial Relations
University of Toronto

Toward a Phenomenology of Work

1. Introduction

Capitalism and the market create precisely the situation - man's
alienation from his essence - that a certain humanist Marxism
seeks to redress. But Marxism sometimes seems to join classical
and neoclassical economics in the assumption that such alienation
was imposed on a human subject who was, by contrast, "Given."
Thus, it must be grasped, by contrast, that it is capitalism that
created, as its given, a Subject that comes into being lost, always-
already alienated from "itself" and from some hypothetical
community of the past. (Shershow, 2005: 217)

In The Work and the Gift, Scott Cutler Shershow interrogates what he describes as a crisis of work rooted in the "double necessity of work": the paradox of labour understood both as material necessity and the essence of being. In order to further expose this "double-bind", Shershow distinguishes between work (as labour or toil) and the Work (as a 'work of art', such as an opus; and also the Work of theorizing work). In Shershow's view, the idea of the Gift offers a way out of this "fatal dilemma" if the Gift is recognised as something other than a commodity or exchange, as a free giving (of both work and idleness) which might become the foundation for a "community of unworking" built upon a recognition of shared finite being.

I begin with Shershow for a number of reasons. First, he accomplishes something industrial relations has failed to do in a century of scholarship(1): he directly and rigorously interrogates the meaning of work itself. Second, he deals with the conflict between labour and capital (arguably the centrepiece of attempts to theorize industrial relations; see Barbash , 1981, 1993; Marsden, 1982; Godard, 2003 in particular) not as an either/or dialectic but as a philosophical problem more deeply rooted than a choice among economic perspectives but directly affecting them nonetheless. Third, Shershow's work is emblematic of a small (but perhaps growing) number of writers - many coming from outside industrial relations (Shershow is a professor of English; David Whyte (2001), a poet trained as a zoologist, writes about work as a pilgrimage of identity) - whose original explorations of the meaning of work offer much of potential value to industrial relations scholarship. Finally, while I do not share Shershow's faith in poststructuralist analyses, I do find his philosophical exploration of the limitations and possibilities of (neo)classical economic and Marxist perspectives highly illuminating. I very much agree that an analysis of being and finitude is central to a meaningful exposition of the character of work. In my view, though, this cries out for a (Heideggerian) phenomenological reading of work and alienation, and an attempt to conceive such a thing forms the core of this paper.

This paper is one effort to address a recurring criticism of industrial relations scholarship, namely that the discipline lacks adequate theoretical development. The validity of this criticism seems demonstrated by both the number and diversity of the critics and the depth and range of their reproach. It is perplexing, however, to observe that while most of these commentators are industrial relations scholars whose purpose in commenting on the lack of theoretical development is to at least partly to make room for their own theories, their contributions seem to sink into industrial relations like dark matter, measurable only by the weight of their descent. It is my view that efforts to reframe industrial relations are doomed on three accounts. First, the discipline's astonishing reliance upon quantitative empirical study has meant that theoretical accounts not linked to empirical methodology are barely heard, let alone understood. Marsden (1982), Godard (1989), and Mende (2005) describe this as a "doctrine of empiricism" which both limits and conceals the theoretical reach of the discipline. Second, most industrial relations scholarship seems be undertaken along a political continuum somewhere between (neo)classical economics and radical Marxism (Godard's five perspectives on labour-management relations, distilled from a wide range of IR scholarship, are an excellent example: see Godard, 2003: 11-20), meaning that IR research is interpreted as either denying or exploring an ideological conflict between labour and capital. Third, a fixation on establishing industrial relations as a discipline distinct from other fields of study has produced a kind of disciplinary gate-keeping in which ideas from other areas of study are excluded outright (a practice consistent with what Elizabeth Bird (2001) calls an "essential conservatism" intended to preserve the status quo) or are borrowed indifferently and applied imprecisely, as appears to be the case with 'received' meanings of work and alienation, including those adapted from Hegel and Marx. In summary, industrial relations seems both methodologically and epistemologically blinkered.

In the course of conducting research for this paper, I began by considering criticisms of empiricism, with the idea that I might be able to rely on them to help 'make room' for phenomenological approaches and perspectives within industrial relations theory and practice. I thought that it might be fairly easily to conceive of an industrial relations in which empirical and qualitative approaches might both be recognised as offering valuable contributions to the understanding of work and industrial relations. I realised, however, that criticisms of empiricism do not appear to go far enough or perhaps deep enough. Indeed, it appears to me that criticisms of empiricism are deployed primarily to cleave apart political dimensions of industrial relations rather than methodological or philosophical ones. In effect, critics of empiricism, among them Marsden (1982) and Godard (1989, 2003) are not objecting to empiricism so much as they are challenging (neo)classical economics. Their aim is to infuse industrial relations with a Marxian perspective. This is laudable enough (and much needed, given the contemptuous and - at best - premature dismissal of Marxian perspectives by commentators such as Barbash (1981, 1993) and given the undeniable reality of conflict between labour and capital that gave rise to industrial relations in the first place). But if industrial relations was established in the conflict between labour and capital, who is to say it must remain there, or only there? It seemed to me that if we are to achieve truly "higher-level" theorization in industrial relations (Walker, 1977; Hansen, 2002, after Hyman, 1994), we must ask bigger questions. Instead of asking what a (political) theory of IR might look like, in my view we should ask what a philosophy of IR might look like.

This paper begins substantively, in section 2, by considering some challenges and opportunities arising from IR's particular habits of disciplinarity in terms of their epistemological and methodological implications. In particular, it focuses on how criticisms of empiricism expose industrial relations to a broader set of concerns (acknowledging that at the same time such criticisms are used to reinforce alternative orthodoxies). It asks, in an admittedly provisional way, whether the discipline of industrial relations is in a position to develop theoretically in its current form or whether it might be redefined entirely. The third section of this paper focuses on how criticisms of empiricism open a breach in which the concept of alienation (always the dark shadow of work, from Hegel to Marx to Heidegger to Arendt) might be explored more deeply and perhaps more profoundly. My aim in this section is to propose a somewhat unwieldy joining of Heideggerian phenomenology with Marx's concept of the alienated worker. While Marxian, critical theory (aligned with the Frankfurt school), poststructural, and feminist perspectives on work all represent important non-empirical contributions to industrial relations and the meaning of work, it is my view that alienation is not really understood without reference to a phenomenological perspective. Indeed, there are numerous similarities between Marx's concept of the alienated worker and Heidegger's claim that the essence of modern technology reduces workers to "standing reserve", so many so that Shershow's (2005) analysis of work (and the Work) as gift (predicated on Marxian views of human relations) cries out for a Heideggerian interpretation and seems patently incomplete without it.

In the course of my research I have spent a considerable amount of time reading and thinking about philosophies of work. It is my view that industrial relations cannot truly grow as a discipline without conscious consideration of its philosophical underpinnings in all their methodological, ontological, and epistemological dimensions. One way of beginning to do so is by unpacking a complex, contradictory, and arguably controversial concept - alienation, in the case of this paper - and reading it philosophically. I have chosen to read alienation phenomenologically because existing interpretations of alienation seem to call out for a phenomenological analysis, and because phenomenology has the capacity to add important methodological and epistemological depth to industrial relations as a discipline.

2. A Theoretical Vacancy: The Limits of Empiricism in Industrial Relations Scholarship

The inadequacy of theoretical development within industrial relations is a frequent refrain in published scholarly work. Industrial relations is hardly alone in this regard: refuting existing theories (substantively or simply by asserting their deficiency) is a standard technique scholars use to insert themselves into crowded intellectual domains. Indeed, such strategies often take guidance from philosopher of science Karl Popper's view that theories can never be verified, only tested, and that informed efforts to challenge and refute existing theories direct the proper progress of science. However, a difference within industrial relations is that scholars claim not only that industrial relations theory is inadequate, but that it is largely absent. This claim is particularly troubling considering that, a century after its inception, industrial relations can no longer be called a new discipline.(2)

In this section I interrogate claims about the inadequacy of theoretical development within industrial relations, focusing in particular on a recurring assertion that the greatest constraint on the growth of IR theory is an excessive preoccupation with empiricism. It seems evident that this fixation with empiricism is firmly linked to efforts to establish industrial relations as a credible, authoritative discipline; however, at the same time it has significantly constrained the development of IR theory. The following limitations are particularly evident: (1) a preoccupation with empiricism that has marginalized other approaches to IR and rejected their epistemological underpinnings; (2) a narrow or shallow understanding of IR's disciplinary boundaries, in which many potentially rich contributions are disregarded on the assumption that they 'belong' to other disciplines, or conversely are unreflectively adopted as part of IR without thoughtful consideration of how they should be altered to suit IR-specific concerns; and (3) a doctrine of empiricism that muffles or artificially polarizes ideological questions that deserve teasing apart in a search for their theoretical or definitive foundations. In light of the dual quandary IR finds itself in (being subject to simultaneous criticisms of deficiency and duplicity), I consider how IR might transcend these limitations and progress toward what Hansen (2002, after Hyman, 1994) calls "higher-level theorization" and "meta-theory".

In Desperately Seeking Industrial Relations Theory, Roy Adams (1988) seeks to counter thirty years of writers lamenting the underdevelopment of IR theory by asserting that IR theory is alive and expanding. Defining IR theory as "that body of concepts, constructs, ideas, norms and relationships between variables which animates intellectual activity in the distinct discipline of industrial relations theory" (2), he goes on to assert that IR theory has the "dual character" of being "both a multi-disciplinary field and a separate discipline in its own right." (3) Adams' optimism does not appear to be shared widely among IR scholars writing both before and after him. These writers almost invariably relate the lack of theoretical development in IR to a preoccupation with empiricism. Walker (1977) describes IR practitioners as "suspicious" of theory and prescribes three 'tests' if IR theory is to be useful in practice: "(a) it must not be banal; (b) it must go further than merely codifying practice; and (c) it must cope with the multi-faceted character of industrial relations." (307) Marsden (1982) describes IR as subject to Prufrock-worthy "spasms of self-doubt and anxiety as to the nature of its subject matter" in the face of "the apparent absence of a theory in industrial relations." (232) Capelli (1985) describes an inductivist approach to IR research "characterized by the aphorism, "a pound of facts and an ounce of theory"" (91), and points out that even with a shift toward the deductive-normative model in the United States, most research remains atheoretical or has relied on theories borrowed from the other social sciences, particular political science, sociology, and economics, attempts which he notes "have in general contributed to the decline of industrial relations as a separate field and have led to less accurate explanations of industrial relations behaviors." (108-109) Capelli's views are echoed by Godard (1989), who asserts that,

[n]ot only have scholars failed to generate much by way of deductive
theory, with most of their research remaining atheoretical, they have also
been preoccupied with empirical phenomena, failing to address more
fundamental debates, issues, and problems in industrial relations. Thus,
despite a number of important advances, the field has been left vulnerable
to two basic criticisms: that it is characterized by ad hoc empiricism, and;
that it proceeds from a superficial, status quo orientation. (2)

Whitfield and Strauss (2000) identify a variety of risks stemming from an excessive reliance on quantitative and deductive approaches, including a disproportionate focus on more readily quantifiable topics, reference to correlation rather than causality, the use of inappropriate variables, a retreat from the 'real world' of IR actors and interactions, and loss of scope for "creative surprises" in research (148). Murakami (2000) cites all these writers and more, and adds that the Kuhnian 'dialectic' he attributes to Godard (1993)(3), in which there is inductive movement from the empirical to the theoretical and then deductive movement from the theoretical to the empirical, is in any event incomplete, meaning that IR theory cannot really be said to progress either inductively or deductively. And despite his own optimism, even Adams admits that IR theory remains "primitive", lacking dynamism and generality, fixated on "conceptualisation and classification" (1988: 5) and lacking in a "definitive source." (ibid: 6)

In the face of the above criticisms, it is worth asking how empiricism alone could have been so confining to IR, particularly when other disciplines seem to be able to incorporate empirical approaches without the same detriment.(4) The answer seems rooted partly in the character of empiricism and partly in the character of industrial relations. Marsden (1982) describes the "project of empiricism" as being "to make observations, to classify and order what is observed and to make general statements about observed or calculated relations between observables." (233; after Zubaida, 1974) Under empiricism, knowledge is understood to be a posteriori (derived from experience of experiment) and the validity of any claim is measured by the ability to test it. Taken at face value, this seems an innocuous enough description of a methodological approach. However, in The Poverty of Empiricism, Jens Mende writes,

There is a world of difference between the terms 'empirical' and
'empiricism'. The term 'empirical' refers to a battery of very useful
research methods. The term 'empiricism' refers to a restrictive
methodological doctrine which claims that researchers may only use
empirical methods. ... [T]he empiricist doctrine impoverishes any
discipline where it is deeply entrenched. (Mende, 2005: 189)

IR scholars, among them Marsden (1982), Capelli (1985), Godard (1989), Murakami (2000) and others argue that industrial relations is doctrinally empiricist. Marsden (1982) and Godard (1989) arguably go the furthest in their critiques of the doctrine of empiricism within IR.

Marsden (1982) takes up sociologist Louis Althusser's critique of empiricism, which holds that in empirical research there are 'objects' (real things) and 'essences' (abstractions) which researchers purport to extract from them. According to Althusser, empiricism is deceitful (if generally unconsciously so) because the 'essence' of an object (the basis upon which generalizations are made) is not actually derived from an object but is instead a product of thought - a theoretical object - achieved by appropriating and concealing the real object (234). In short, according to Althusser's critique, empiricists play a kind of shell game, infusing objects with the very theories they then pretend to extract from them. Another way of putting this is to say that the answers a researcher gets are dependent upon the questions s/he asks. According to Althusser - a position Marsden shares - the empiricist production of knowledge always occurs within an ideology. In Marsden's view, the theoretical quandary industrial relations finds itself in is traceable to its empirical foundations. The 'commonsense' 'objects' of industrial relations - for example, relations among employers, unions, workers, and the state - are understood as observable facts but are not: instead those very categories and the relations among them are theoretically (ideologically) produced. The 'atheoretical' observations that are the basis of much IR research only reproduce ideologies, thus further burying the already latent theories upon which they are based. It is Marsden's view that industrial relations theory was born out of the ideological clash between two warring ideologies: Marxian political economy and neo-classical economics. In practice this ideological clash has been subsumed beneath empirical studies of relationships between IR 'actors'.

Godard (1989) directly targets logical empiricism, accepting the methods of logical empiricism but rejecting the assumptions underlying them. He asserts that not only have IR researchers "failed to generate much in the way of consistent and/or incontrovertible findings or explanations of findings ... the work of these scholars has fallen far short of the (ideal) standards of logical empiricism." (8-9) Godard describes four critiques of logical empiricism which are simultaneously proposed as alternatives to it, summarized briefly herein. The first, a conventionalist critique (channelled through Kuhn and Lakatos) calls into question "the belief that social science is a neutral, objective endeavour, in which adherence to a universally agreed upon set of methodological strictures determines what passes for knowledge." (11) In reality, an "established paradigm" determines the methods and subjects of inquiry and provide a "conservatizing influence" on research. Secondly, the social action critique (which includes hermeneutical and phenomenological approaches) holds that the ontological assumptions underlying logical empiricism (at least as applied to social research) are flawed because they apply the methods of scientific naturalism directly to human subjects but fail to take into consideration their consciousness, intersubjectivity, and will. Critics in this domain point out that there are no immutable "laws" of human behaviour and that social "outcomes" are not traceable to a linear set of social processes. The third critique, theoretical realism (essentially a critique of scientism), holds that logical empiricism fails to address the structural nature of social processes and the conditions underlying visible phenomena, arguing that theories that cannot be tested by narrow empirical measures should not be rejected as unscientific. The fourth critique (the one most favoured by Godard, a view consistent with Marsden, 1982 and explicitly shared by Murakami, 2000) arises from critical theory. Critical theory exists to "expose existing structures and ideologies of domination", against the status quo orientation of logical empiricism and the preoccupation within industrial relations of research directed toward corrective policy. Critical theorists seek to "uncover inequalities and injustices and ... mount an attack upon dominant ideologies" Godard seeks an approach to social analysis within IR that combines the strengths of these four critiques and which recognises that knowledge is inescapably the product of social processes, is not bound by narrow empiricist strictures (particularly with regard to what counts as "scientific"), seeks to identify underlying social causes while recognising actors as conscious beings, and which exposes hidden biases and structural inequalities.

From the above criticisms of empiricism, it may be noted that IR theory faces a dual quandary, in the sense that it is subject to the double charge of deficiency and duplicity. In the first, a fetish for empirical approaches and a fixation upon description, classification, and the quantification of the visible has left IR theory partial, "primitive" (Adams, 1988:5), and reliant on uncritical interdisciplinarity (Walker (1977), Capelli (1985), Whitfield & Strauss (2000), Murakami (2000), among others). In the second, the doctrine of empiricism in IR has concealed its ideological underpinnings, thus posing a further obstacle to the development of alternative perspectives and the development of truly critical IR theories (see especially Marsden, 1982, Godard, 1989, and Murakami, 2000). As Godard puts it,

According to critical theorists, the major problem with empiricism is
that it is inherently conservative. Here, two arguments are germane.
First, because empiricism rejects all theory which cannot be subjected
to direct empirical study as metaphysical, it does not allow scholars to
address or even consider potential alternatives to the status quo. Any
such analysis is relegated to the status of ideology and hence is viewed
as unscientific. Second, by believing that science can and should be
value neutral, logical empiricists - albeit perhaps unwittingly - become
agents of the status quo, for it is dominant interests and values within
the status quo which shape the choice of research issues, the way these
issues are perceived, and how research pertaining to these issues is
consumed. (1989: 28)

It seems clear that IR must own up to how heavily laden its assumptions, approaches, and methods are. There are three interrelated dimensions to this. First, IR scholarship needs to be open to a broader range of methods, including (and perhaps particularly) those which depart from narrowly deductive empiricism. Secondly, IR scholarship needs to probe into its ideological underpinnings, including those which preserve the status quo by subsuming conflict and concealing inequality. Thirdly, IR scholarship needs to grow intellectual roots which are far deeper and which range far more widely than current work in the discipline. This third need has been expressed in a variety of iterations, all advocating work in IR that moves beyond low and middle-range theorizing and generalization / hypothesis building (essentially, descriptive work) toward higher-level theorization and the development of meta-theories (Hansen, 2002, who credits Hyman, 1994; see also Walker, 1977, who identifies ascending levels of theorizing within IR ranging from typologies to partial theories to integrating conceptual frameworks). The interpretation of alienation I propose in the third section of this paper seeks explicitly to illuminate all three of these dimensions.

3. A Heideggerian Reading of Alienation: Toward a Phenomenology of Work

It appears there is no easy way to approach alienation within industrial relations. In IR as such, there is no clearly developed template for exploring alienation, just as there is no clearly understood concept of work. It is true that there is a considerable literature tracing Marxian thought on alienation and the labour process, but this literature is contradictory and manifestly incomplete, perhaps in keeping with Marx's apparent ambivalence about the concept (or at least the terminology) of alienation. At the same time, the concept of alienation has a complex and contested legacy traceable back to Hegel but which has also passed through the hands of a variety of others, most importantly for the purposes of this paper, Marx and Heidegger. Most writers on the subject admit that the waters have become muddied: in this section I seek to stir them up a little more by identifying connections between Marx's concept of alienated labour and the claim made by the phenomenologist Martin Heidegger that the essence of modern technology (inextricably entwined with the development of industrial capitalism) is to reduce the worker to "standing reserve". My motives for doing so are multiple. First, it seems clear to me that alienation is the shadow of work, and that any interpretation of the meaning and experience of work is incomplete without some consideration of its alienating aspects. Second, the analyses of alienation I have read, particularly the Marxian ones, seem to cry out for a phenomenological reading (especially a Heideggerian one). Third, because I hold that phenomenology is one promising non-empirical approach to IR scholarship, I employ alienation to demonstrate the efficacy of phenomenology in IR theory development. In this light, my motives are at once methodological, epistemological, and ideological - motives that in my view (as expressed above; and as Godard, 1989, also avers) should characterise all IR scholarship.

Philosophical considerations of work seem divided on the degree to which work is simply a material necessity and how much work is part of the essence of human being. Shershow (2005; introduced at the beginning of this paper) describes this as the double necessity of work, in the sense that we live to work at the same time as we work to live. Gamst (1995) observes that the etymology of the English word 'work' suggests an ambivalent view of work. While the Greek, German, and Indo-European origins of the word 'work' refer to doing, acting, and performing, the word 'travail' is traceable to the Latin tripalium, an instrument of torture and the French travail, meaning "exceedingly hard work" as well as "intense pain." (2-3) He adds that the character of work changes when the proviso is added (as it generally is) that work involves the creation of value in a social or cultural setting. (ibid) Kwant (1960) describes a number of "paradoxes of the labor world", among them that labor liberates as it restrains, that as the world becomes more available to us, we must become more available to it (and therefore less available to ourselves), and that labor simultaneously enriches and impoverishes (3-11). Simon (1940) and Fox (1994) echo Shershow in averring that there is a contemporary crisis of work, in that our relationships with work are challenged or are changing in the face of technologies and economic and social structures that profoundly alter how work is done and how it is valued. In his famous essay, "In Praise of Idleness" (1932), Bertrand Russell derides the belief in the virtuousness of work in which the reward of work is not leisure but more work. He describes this as emblematic of a modern "cult of efficiency" in which "everything ought to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake."

The concept of alienation is similarly ambivalent, but the timing of its appearance in the philosophical lexicon may help illuminate claims that there is a contemporary crisis of work rooted in industrial capitalism and modern technology. As a philosophical concept alienation is traced to Fichte and Hegel early in the nineteenth century (Pappenheim, 1959: 14). To Hegel, work is part of a social process (meaning that it is both individual and historical): the self experiences a process of self-division, self-alienation, and its overcoming (Kovacs, 1986; Sayers, 2003). Marx took up and then repudiated Hegel's notion of alienation in the 1840s, using the concept of self-alienation in his interpretation of industrial capitalism (ibid: 14), whose effects were then becoming evident in Germany. For Marx, it is the conditions of industrial capitalism that produce alienation, not work itself (Alexos, 1976; Israel, 1979; Schwalbe, 1986). While both Hegel and Marx define work as an essential part of human existence, as "a rational and distinctively human activity that creates the way of life of the human being and, at the same time, transforms the world and human relationships" (Kovacs, 1986: 195-196), and while both deliberate the alienating aspects of labour (in which the self is lost or transformed through work), Marx challenges the Hegelian claim that labour is itself alienating, holding instead that it is the relations of production under industrial capitalism that are alienating. Heidegger's writings on alienation, for their part, are rooted in a similar view that alienation is traceable to conditions of modernity associated with industrial capitalism, namely a technological shift which transforms both nature and human being. Heidegger writes about alienation as an existential state in Being and Time but the concept of alienation becomes more pointed and prominent in his later work. It is Heidegger's claim that the essence of modern technology reduces both nature and human beings to "standing reserve": "Everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering." (1993: 322)

In The Tyranny of Work James Rinehart identifies five aspects of alienation grounded in Marx's critique of industrial capitalism. They are: (1) an estrangement of working people from the products of their labour; and (2) an estrangement of workers from the work process itself (in the sense that their labour belongs to someone else). These first two sources of alienation lead to (3) self-estrangement. Because work is a principal medium for self-expression and self-development, estrangement from its process and product reduces work to a means for physical survival rather than a higher-order source of personal and social gratification. A closely related aspect is (4) the estrangement of human beings from their own essence or nature. According to Marx, people manifest their unique qualities through conceiving, planning, and engaging in their work: Rinehart adds, "under alienating conditions, however, this unity is broken, as some people simply are required to perform tasks conceptualized by others." (13) The final type of alienation, (5) estrangement of individuals from one another, occurs because, in Marx's view, hierarchies in alienating work environments produce antagonistic relationships and competitiveness (especially along class lines but also within classes), inhibiting social intercourse by separating people on the basis of power and privilege. (1996: 11-15). Rinehart's discussion of Marx's concept of alienation is slightly more complex than the one usually proposed (Schwalbe, for example, observes that "Marx's concept of alienated labour is often presented as encompassing four 'dimensions of alienation ... alienation from productive process, product, self, and others." (1986:11)), but as such it exemplifies a number of strengths and weaknesses evident in Marx's concept of alienation, and provides the basis of my joining of Marxian and Heideggerian claims about the alienating qualities of contemporary labour.

Heidegger's interpretation of alienation has not received as much attention as Marx's concept, although alienation is as central to Heidegger's work as it is to any reading of Marx. In Being and Time, Heidegger describes alienation as emblematic of "fallenness" into the everyday world:

Falling Being-in-the-world is not only tempting and tranquillizing;
it is at the same time alienating. ... This alienation closes off from
Dasein its authenticity and possibility, even if only the possibility
of genuine foundering. It does not, however, surrender Dasein to
an entity which Dasein is not, but forces it into its inauthenticity -
into a possible kind of Being itself. The alienation of falling - at
once tempting and tranquillizing - leads by its own movement, to
Dasein's getting entangled in itself. (Heidegger, 1962: 222-223)

For Heidegger, alienation does not result only from external causes but from the nature of Being itself. Fallenness and inauthenticity are ways Dasein is alienated from itself. They are also 'natural' states in that Dasein is always already inauthentic: fallenness, inauthenticity, and alienation are ways of Being. Dasein's general unconsciousness of its alienation from itself is subject to rupture. In Being and Time Heidegger holds that glimpses of awareness of finitude - moments when Dasein becomes aware of the horizon of its mortality (an awareness from which Dasein is generally in flight) - enable Dasein to heed what he describes as the "call of conscience" and to become resolute. These are moments when Dasein becomes aware of its alienation from itself and becomes capable of transcending it.

In his later work, Heidegger reframes alienation not only as a way of Being but as a condition emerging out of the essence of modern technology. In The Question Concerning Technology, Heidegger distinguishes between the 'essence of technology' and techne. The originary meaning of technology, or techne, constituted a bringing-forth, an arising of something out of itself, a revealing (317-318). Techne was the name "not only for the activities and skills if the craftsman but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts"; it was something poetic (318) In contrast, the revealing brought about through modern technology is not a poetical bringing-forth but a challenging-forth, in which energy is extracted and stored. Heidegger writes,

everywhere everything is ordered to stand by, to be immediately
on hand, indeed to stand there just so that it may be on call for
a further ordering. Whatever is ordered about in this way has its
own standing. We call it the standing-reserve. (322)

This ordering, this challenging-forth, is very different from the bringing-forth, the gathering of essents (things) together. This challenging-forth, in Heidegger's view, enframes society. This is the essence of technology: that not only things but also humans are challenged forth and ordered as standing-reserve. (325) Heidegger points out an additional consequence: "modern science's way of representing pursues and entraps nature as a calculable coherence of forces ... [and] sets nature up to exhibit itself as a coherence of forces calculable in advance", thus "ordering its experiments precisely for the purpose of asking whether and how nature reports itself when set up in this way." (326) Heidegger is not only talking about the world of nature and things: his phenomenology is ultimately always about the essence of human Being. Thus, "the essence of modern technology starts man upon the way of that revealing through which the actual everywhere, more or less distinctly, becomes standing-reserve. ... [man] comes to the point where he himself will have to be taken as standing-reserve. ... it banishes man into the kind of revealing that is an ordering. When this ordering holds sway, it drives out every other possibility of revealing" (329-332)

Heidegger's representation of the essence of technology is crucial to an understanding of alienated labour. It is worth observing that Marx's critique of capitalism is not only a historical or even an economic one: it is equally a technological critique, based on the reality that the historical circumstances producing capitalism did not arise without the technological capacity for mass production and technologically-mediated work. Marx's view that technological advances will provide an impetus for revolutionary social change are analogous to Heidegger's assertion that we might be capable of "catching sight of the essential unfolding in technology, instead of merely gaping at the technological." and that we remain alert to the danger of "the possibility that all revealing will be consumed in ordering and that everything will present itself only in the unconcealment of standing-reserve." (Heidegger, 1993: 337) Similarly, the alienation workers experience is closely linked to their becoming interchangeable with the tools they use in manufacturing and other kinds of work. What is missing in Marx's concept of alienation is a clear account of its connection to technology, one that in my view Heidegger provides. At the same time, Marx's concept of alienation provides a practical expression of Heidegger's somewhat convoluted explanation of how people are reduced to standing-reserve.

I am not the first person to point out similarities between Marx's concept of alienation and Heidegger's claim that the essence of modern technology reduces workers to "standing reserve" and severs them from their essence. However, it seems clear that such work (perhaps like the adoption of phenomenological methods in applied research on work) occurs very much at the margins of labour studies and philosophy or is conducted stealthily, often under another name. This is not to say that there is not considerable interest in linkages between Heidegger and Marx (indeed, cursory accounts of Heidegger's account of being often refer to both Hegel and Marx's concept of alienation, as well as - more remotely - Kierkegaard's descriptions of angst) but that this interest has not yet found a coherent scholarly voice. It is worth acknowledging, at the same time, that Heidegger's preoccupation with alienation did not extend to a cogent analysis of Marx. Burston comments on Heidegger's "odd" commendation of Marx in a letter to the French philosopher Jean Beaufret, citing Marx's concept of alienation as rooted in "the homelessness of modern man". There are also numerous differences between Marxian and Heideggerian assessments of history, progress, the role of the social, and technology which might undo efforts to find correspondence between their conceptions of alienation. Kovacs (1986), Burston (1998), and Eldred (2000) acknowledge these difficulties, yet press on in their efforts to articulate a Heideggerian notion of alienated labour.

Kovacs (1986) describes both Hegelian and Marxian analyses of work "basically phenomenological" (196). In Kovacs' view, a phenomenology of work peers beneath the surface meanings and expressions of work and explores "the ultimate (ontological) nature and meaning of work" through "a more intense examination and reflection in order to grasp the comprehensive meaning of work and its connection with the phenomenon of self-transcendence." (197) He adds that a phenomenological analysis of work reveals both self-transcendence and self-alienation (perhaps a naive -- although not invalid -- approach to unifying the Hegelian and Marxian positions) and shows that the worker is both revealed and hidden in work. Kovacs suggests three 'perspectives' which may aid along the way to understanding the meaning(s) of work: (a) an axiological perspective (which focuses on the meaning-creating and meaning-destroying possibilities of work itself -- how work is alienating and how this alienation may be overcome); (b) an ontological (metaphysical) perspective concerned with the reality and 'being' of work; and (c) a psychological/therapeutic perspective on work. It is Kovacs' third perspective which offers the greatest utility in exploring the meaning of alienations and work. By 'therapeutic', Kovacs means not that work (or a phenomenology of work) 'solves' alienation but offers a creative venue for exploring it, while at the same time establishing meaning and values in and about work. In this sense, it is precisely self-transcendence that is therapeutic (this view is fairly consistent, if distantly so, with a psychoanalytic approach).

Burston (1998) emphasizes Heidegger's focus on the immediacy of lived experience as a way to explore alienation. Burston cites psychoanalyst R.D. Laing's view (informed by readings of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Marx, Heidegger, and Sartre) that alienation is a primary ontological condition reflecting an insecurity about being. All human beings have a need for authentic self-disclosure, but the capacity to self-disclose is constrained by internal and social dynamics. Burston points out that unlike Marx (and Hegel), Heidegger is not a historicist; to Heidegger, alienation is exacerbated by and even expressed in our responses to conditions of work and technology, but rather than being rooted in them (as Marx proposes), alienation is part of the deeper character of existence. At the same time, it is a recognition of alienation that is most useful to achieving personal transcendence.

Eldred (2000) finds it surprising that Heidegger did not engage in any lengthy engagement with Marx, particularly given the degree of overlap in their work on alienation. He acknowledges, as Burston (1998) does, that they conceive alienation differently:

For Marx, it is labour that is alienated because it is subjected to an
alien power, capital, and which is supposed to be liberated from this
power. For Heidegger, it is not labour subjugated to capital that is
alienated and which is supposed to become free, self-determined labour,
but labour itself, independently of its subjugation to capital, is alienated
as a free-for-all that drags beings out into the open, oblivious to
their being. (Eldred, 2000: 9)

Eldred cites Heidegger's analysis of production as further explanation of his views on alienation, in which objects (for example, a hammer which "is useful for hammering, hammering is useful for fastening, fastening is useful for protection against bad weather, protection against bad weather is for the sake of Dasein's accommodation, that is, for the sake of a possibility of its being." (Heidegger, 1962: 116) are conceived in terms of their at-handedness. Eldred's analysis pertains to the way Heidegger's mediators of exchange (which bring objects to become ontologically (factically) accessible to Dasein) overlap with Marx's analysis of production, but Eldred's views gain additional significance when read alongside Heidegger's discussion of Dasein's existential alienation ("fallenness"; inauthenticity; see above) and his discussion of the essence of technology: under such conditions not only tools but beings themselves become (mere) commodities, objects "present at hand" to be taken up in use, but whose inherent being is subsumed beneath utility to others.

The preceding efforts to construct a phenomenological interpretation of alienation grounded in both Marx and Heidegger are not unproblematic. To begin with, they are very much provisional, and as such are subject to the charge that they are shallow mis-readings of both Marx and Heidegger. At best they offer unorthodox interpretations. In my view, however, scholarship is at its best when it is unorthodox: like Feyerabend, I believe progress is most likely to occur in places of rupture. In my view, the joining of Marx and Heidegger in an exploration of alienated labour is useful not only to industrial relations scholarship, but to the development of both Heideggerian and Marxian thought. Heidegger's ideas are criticised for (among many other things) their very abstract character. While Heidegger employs homely metaphors (writing about hammers, tables, bridges, and dwellings), it is difficult to translate his ontology into practice, and researchers adopting a phenomenological method have resorted to using what might be called crutches in order to bridge Heidegger's abstract concepts of being and the realities of lived experience. It seems to me that the experience of alienated labour under industrial capitalism represents one such 'crutch'. Even if one holds, as Heidegger does, that alienation is a primordial state of being, one is not necessarily precluded from exploring one iteration of alienation as expressed in workers' responses to conditions of labour under capitalism. Such explorations should be able to contribute to, rather than detract from, Heideggerian readings of alienation.

Marxian perspectives, too, can benefit from exposure to a phenomenological reading. Even if Marxian analyses are firmly rooted in class consciousness, the individual experience of alienation is still worthy of study. Even if, as Rinehart asserts, "alienation is objective or structural in the sense that it is built into human relationships at the workplace and exists independent of how individuals perceive and evaluate this condition," (1996: 14), a phenomenological consideration of how individuals perceive their experiences and environments cannot help but deepen a Marxian perspective on work and alienation. If individuals are not conscious of their alienation, or if they express it in ways independent of or inconsistent with a Marxian class consciousness, it is worth considering why and how.

I close this section with an analysis of Shoshana Zuboff's In the Age of the Smart Machine, perhaps the best known study which applies a phenomenological method to research on work. Zuboff applies a phenomenological analysis to the labour processes involved in computer-based work environments, informed by the methodological approach of psychologists Eugene Gendlin and Jonathan Smith and focusing very much on embodied and psychological responses to the contemporary transformation of work. As she comments in her introduction, "I wanted to discover the flesh and blood behind the concepts, the interior texture rather than the exterior form." (xiv) On her research method, Zuboff writes, "my own commitment to understanding social phenomena has been fundamentally shaped by the study of phenomenology ... I want to understand the dialectical interchange between human responsiveness (feeling, perceiving, behaving) and what philosophers call the "life-world" or the "life field" (423). It is Zuboff's view that phenomenology is sufficiently "rigorous and systematic" to meet the requirements of the social sciences while also offering room for "opportunism and serendipity." (424) Yet, Zuboff acknowledges that her method is profoundly inductive (428), meaning it operates inversely to the conventional empirical and deductive approach most used in the social sciences and particularly in contemporary industrial relations research.

Zuboff's approach was demanded, in part, because contemporary explanations of the character of post-industrial society and existing empirical studies were unable to account for the psychological and behavioural impacts of new technologies. As Zuboff writes, "the choices for the future cannot be deduced from economic data or from abstract measures of organizational functioning. They are embedded in the living detail of daily life at work as ordinary people confront the dilemmas raised by the transformational qualities of new information technology." (12) It was Zuboff's view that the very rupture in awareness produced by the technological shifts produced a calling into question of the "old categories of experience"; the crisis so produced created a "window of opportunity" to seek insight into the nature and character of the working experience. (13) Zuboff's interest was not mere curiosity: the eight organizations she studied faced dilemmas - most particularly those associated with the changing ground of knowledge associated with the introduction of computer mediated work, and the consequent dilemmas of authority - that more ordinary study methodologies were unable to pin down or resolve. In contrast, Zuboff felt her methodological approach offered genuine insights into the nature of the changes and the possibility of a meaningful vision for dealing with them.

While Zuboff does not explicitly identify Marxian or Heideggerian influences on (or readings of) her research, her work provides an ideal template for a phenomenological reading of alienation. Zuboff's work was conducted in an ideologically neutral manner: her objective was to explore the experiences of the workers she engaged with, not to make sweeping pronouncements about the character of work. Yet, as part of an exercise of theory building within industrial relations it is worthwhile 'reading' her study to identify experiences and concepts that might generalize to other situations or to the study of work in general. As such,

Zuboff's work may be read as an exploration of interactions between actors (employees and employers) in an IR system, and it might be read as an exploration of class conflict, but it also stands alone as an exploration of the internal motivations of workers and the meaning of work. As such, it might help by-pass the structural and polemical concerns IR is fixated with and help it move toward higher-order theorizing.

4. Conclusion

In this paper I have sought to contribute to the development of IR theory by proposing a theory of alienation which incorporates elements of both Marxian and Heideggerian understandings of alienation. I have done so because it seems to me that alienation is the shadow of work, and that the meaning(s) work cannot be adequately understood without reference to experiences of alienation; because Marxian perspectives on alienation seem to cry out for a Heideggerian / phenomenological reading; and because I consider phenomenology to be an important non-empirical method useful for conducting IR research. Given that as a research method phenomenology is deeply rooted in philosophical considerations of being, it is one possible way of addressing concerns that IR is empirically fixated and theoretically underdeveloped. Phenomenological analyses seem also to offer an alternative to the neo-classical - Marxian dialectic, whose proponents have seemed to me to wave their warring axiologies in infinite regress.

Works Cited

Adams, Roy J., 1988. Desperately Seeking Industrial Relations Theory. The International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations, 4(1): 1-10.

Alexos, Kostas, 1976. Alienation, Praxis, and Techne in the Thought of Karl Marx. Austin; London: University of Texas Press.

Barbash, Jack, 1981. Theories of the Labour Movement in an Institutional Setting. Journal of  Economic Issues, 15(2): 299-310.

Barbash, Jack, 1993. The Founders of Industrial Relations as a Field of Study: An American Perspective. In Roy J. Adams and Noah M. Meltz, eds., Industrial Relations Theory: its Nature, Scope and Pedagogy. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press: 67-80.

Burston, Daniel, 1998. Laing and Heidegger on Alienation. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 38(4): 80-93.

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Eldred, Michael, 2000. Capital and Technology: Marx and Heidegger. Left Curve, Number 24.

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Hansen, Lise Lotte, 2002. Rethinking the industrial relations tradition from a gender perspective: An invitation to integration. Employee Relations, 24 (1 | 2): 190-210.

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Murakami, Thomas, 2000. Think outside the square you live in! Exploring a new IR Theory. Refereed paper presented at the 14th annual Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand (AIRAANZ) conference, Newcastle, and published in its proceedings.

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1. This is not to say that writers in the industrial relations tradition have not attempted to explore and describe meanings of work: the existence of a number of edited anthologies (see Erikson & Vallas (1990) and Gamst (1995) for two examples) suggests that such efforts have achieved sufficient prominence to be used as course readers in labour studies and industrial relations programs. Yet, it seems to me that the meanings of work they rely on are most often accepted and applied as 'received' from Hegel, Marx, Russell, Arendt, and others. As Hansen (2002: 197) puts it, in industrial relations such theories are "imported" for the analysis rather than being integrated or generated - or themselves questioned. This practice is limiting not only to industrial relations but also to the development of theories of work.

2. Although commentators including Marsden (1982), Adams (1988), and numerous others cite IR's "youth", at a century old, industrial relations has been around as long as many disciplines with far richer theoretical underpinnings, including sociology, geography, and anthropology, and is far older than others, including cultural studies and women's studies. These disciplines have encountered similar difficulties in carving out terrain and establishing themselves in the social sciences, but have had greater success in doing so. In my view this is traceable to their longstanding and rigorous engagement with epistemological and ontological questions, something (as Murakami, 2000) also points out, IR has only begun to do.

3. I have not read this piece by Godard (Godard, John, 1993. Theory and Method in Industrial Relations: Modernist and Postmodernist Alternatives, in Adams, R. and Meltz, N., Industrial Relations Theory, London: Scarecrow Press.), although I am somewhat familiar with Godard's views on Kuhn (and Feyerabend) through his 1989 paper (cited herein). Kuhn holds that scientific knowledge progresses not in a linear, straight-forward fashion but through paradigm shifts; Feyerabend takes this further (particularly in his 1975 polemic, Against Method), arguing that incommensurability and rupture are the centre-pieces of progress. In both Godard and Murakami's view, IR theory is not in a position to develop in either a linear or revolutionary manner as long as some of the essential theoretical building blocks remain missing. I will add that while I do not share Godard's fealty to labour process theory, in my view he is by far the most thoughtful IR scholar whose published work I have encountered, particularly in terms of his rigorous engagement with deeply rooted philosophical questions. If Godard is not widely appreciated in IR circles, it may be because IR is not yet ready for the kinds of questions he asks.

4. To be clear, though, nearly all disciplines have engaged in their own critique of empiricism; indeed, the entire postmodern project (in all its guises) targets empiricism through its critique of modernity. What appears to be unique about industrial relations is its empirical fetish continuing long after the other social sciences got over the 'quantitative revolution' of the 196s and 1970s. Despite its prominence elsewhere, postmodernity appears to have had little influence on industrial relations.


Last updated 12 January 2006
All content copyright © Amy Lavender Harris, 2005, 2006

Centre for Industrial Relations
University of Toronto