Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series
Edited by Kees van der Pijl
Chapter 22: Production in everyday life: poetics and prosaics
After his detailed investigations into how the division of labour across enterprises and across societies serves to increase wealth, Adam Smith, in Book V of The Wealth of Nations, appears to come to worry about the brutalizing effects of the ‘progress of the division of labour’ for workers. For Smith, however, it is less the division of labour that produces these effects as it is the way that the progress of the division of labour establishes a particular kind of routine and routinization of productive activity and distributes them socially. In Smith’s argument it is not the division of labour per se, or at least on its own, that robs the worker of the mental challenges needed to cultivate the habits of mind characteristic of civilized society, rather it is the way that the progress of the division of labour allocates the kinds of tasks and ways of performing them that situate the ‘great body of the people’ in an everydayness of repetition, banality and ultimately stupor. Smith can be said to be putting forward a critique of everyday life – though it is a kind of critique that, as Henri Lefebvre quipped, comes from a class whose lucidity and activeness results from having been elevated above the everyday: in fact, a criticism of other classes (Lefebvre 1991a: 29). Nevertheless, the link Smith intuits between production and everydayness points towards some fundamental political problems.
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