Work in Progress
by Ponto

Division of Labour

The first thematic we’ve explored followed our first attempt to understand Work in a more simplistic manner. Division of Labour is a term used to define the act of breaking a work process in different stages and giving each stage of work to different individuals. The result is a line of co-operating specialised individuals managing a singular specific task.

Even if the implementation of this system has been seen since Ancient times in various forms, it is specially associated with the rise of capitalism of the 16th—18th century, as a result of the complex structures and systems of industrialized manufacturing processes. Trade and economic interdependence are some of the consequences of the Division of Labour due to the specialisation of the worker that it allows for.

Even though Division of Labour and Division of Work share some similarities, and are both concepts belonging to trade and economic activities, they are different and very singular concepts. Division of Work refers to the division of a big task of project into small tasks, whereas Division of Labour refers to a distribution of tasks to individuals or organisations according to the skills and/or equipment possessed.

According to Adam Smith, author of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), Division of Labour increases productivity, needed for the economic progress, and often leads the workers to a greater skill since they specialise in a specific task. But he also criticises it by saying that it leads to a ‘mental mutilation’, or, in other words, to the worker becoming ignorant as his working life is confined to a single repetitive task.

In The German Ideology (1845) Karl Marx has a similar vision to Smith’s regarding the consequences of the Division of Labour. He argues that specialisation leads workers to poor overall skills and lack of enthusiasm in the work that they are producing due to the repetitive nature of his task. For him, some forms Division of Labour are purely due to ‘technical necessity’, but others are a result of ‘social control’ as seen in the phenomenon of class and status hierarchy.

“(…) in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.”

Karl Marx. The German Ideology. 1845
Part I: Feuerbach. > Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist > Outlook A. Idealism and Materialism. > Private Property and Communism

In Marx’s utopian communist society, the division of labour is transcended. In this society one can engage in more than one activity and truly express their nature in a variety of work and activities without becoming a ‘specialist’ in something in particular.

Design and form: the basic course at the Bauhaus (1923) – Johannes Itten

Design and form: the basic course at the Bauhaus (1923) – Johannes Itten

The need for specialisation and focus on a singular activity is a recurrent theme in the Division of Labour, but it can be easily transferred into other discussions. For example, in the artistic educational context. Most Art & Design educational programmes are based on the Bauhaus model designed by Johannes Itten in 1923 (pictured above). This course model is structured to start with a general foundation course, leading the student to progressively specialise in a area of his choice throughout the years of his studies.
However, many have defended that the model is outdated given the change of circumstances of Art & Design courses in the last decades. Stuart Bailey argues that this model (Bauhaus) responded to a very specific time and that today values of Art&Design couldn’t be more different. He then proposes a new model for a foundation course based on the Photoshop Toolbar as a alternative to the current system.

From the Toolbox of a Serving Library (2011) – Stuart Bailey

From the Toolbox of a Serving Library (2011) – Stuart Bailey

Co-operation is an elemental part on the Division of Labour but this concept is often mistaken with that of Collaboration. By Collaboration we mean working with other people in order to achieve something together that is of mutual interest. Co-operation refers to working with someone in the sense of enabling, filling in gaps, in order to complete an assignment. In Division of Labour workers are asked to co-operate with each other in order to complete the job.

One of the first reactions to the overall thematic of Division of Labour was a workshop with FdA Design for Graphic Communication Year 2 at London College of Communication. The 2-hour zine-making workshop will explore the possibilities of creation that rely on different methods of production. By using industry-set manufacturing systems developed by Ford and Toyota ‘Just-in-time’ model, we will experience how significantly the process may, or not, affect the the outcomes and the work environment.

Further reading:
The German Ideology (1845) – Karl Marx (Part 1)
From the Toolbox of a Serving Library (2011) – Stuart Bailey
Modes of Production Workshop

Image: Still from Modern Times (film, 1036) — Charlie Chaplin

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