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Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma
Deborah M. Figart and Ellen Mutari The work life of human actors plays a signiﬁcantly diﬀerent role within social economics than within mainstream economics. In the textbook model of the labor market, paid employment generates disutility compensated by monetary remuneration. The remuneration is then used to purchase market goods and services to satisfy human wants. Neoclassical labor market theory thus reﬂects the implicit purpose of economic life in the mainstream (neoclassical) deﬁnition of economics articulated by Lionel Robbins in 1935: ‘the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses’ (quoted in Dugger, 1996, p. 31). This deﬁnition is one manifestation of what Jon Wisman (2003) has termed ‘the material progress vision’ in which economic growth is a primary goal of economic life. According to Wisman, ‘In some expressions of this vision, material abundance is viewed not only as the prerequisite, but also as the guarantor, of freedom, equality, and justice’ (ibid., p. 427). Social economists challenge the prioritization of material goods and services as the end of economic life. Instead, work itself can be a source of satisfaction. Wisman, for example, suggests that meaningful and challenging work can enhance cognitive development, self-esteem and a sense of community.1 It is the social relations organizing how work is performed that largely determine whether work is meaningful or alienating (Edwards and Wajcman, 2005). Paid work, of course, is not the only life activity that provides opportunities for meaning. Social...
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