Sergio Caredda - Part 1- A Brief History of Work

Part 1 – A Brief History of Work

History of Work. The Ultimate Quest for the Meaning of Work cannot avoid looking into the depths of our History. In this first post of the series, I will try to give a quick overview of how the concept of Work has evolved, particularly with the surrounding forces behind it, including the overall society.

History of Work. Most books that I have accessed on this content, often have a socialist point of view, thus interpreting Work as an exploitation of a class over another. Although this aspect repeated itself over time in History, it is, however, one of the possible readings we can have in the development of society.

This is why I have decided not to use most of that literature, and concentrate really on a few encyclopedical references on the History of humankind and its relationship with Work. It will serve as an excellent introduction to the content of the next post, where I will try to extrapolate the Discourses of Work through time.

A Brief History of Work

Fig.1: Tools used for a hunting show the first demonstration of Work. Cave of Sabart, France. Photo by Tim Oun on Unsplash
Fig.1: Tools used for a hunting show the first demonstration of Work. Cave of Sabart, France. Photo by Tim Oun on Unsplash

History of Work. Thinking about Work and its meanings is deeply rooted in Human History. But even before, we can trace some elements of what we can define as “work” in primate populations. The capability for some apes to produce tools is probably the nearest concept that we can find to that of Work. With the appearance of the first hominids, Work starts taking a massive impact in their differentiation from other animal species. The use of art to embellish tools is not just the sign of maturing human culture—it also signifies a changed relationship between people and objects, embodying several critical aspects of the meaning of Work: one is aesthetic sensibility and symbolism. Another is reverence and metaphysical belief systems. (Nicholson, 2010). Work was, however, a mainly individual activity, or the result of collaborative practices (such as in hunting).

Around 10 000 years ago, the proto-agricultural practices of our intelligent ancestors developed into the first fixed agrarian settlements. The design of Work changed radically at this point. Labour on the land became organised around collective tasks linked with the cycles of the seasons—agriculture and animal husbandry—and around tasks associated with the establishment, maintenance, and growth of fixed settlements. The ownership of Lands and of the Produce of the earth became the first element that created human hierarchies and the concepts of ranks in some cultures. It also made, for the first time, a differentiation between people that were working, and those that weren’t (chiefs, priests and so on).


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