The Elgar Companion to Social Economics
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The Elgar Companion to Social Economics

Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma

As this comprehensive Companion demonstrates, social economics is a dynamic and growing field that emphasizes the key role that values play in the economy and in economic life. Social economics treats the economy and economics as being embedded in the larger web of social and ethical relationships. It also regards economics and ethics as essentially connected, and adds values such as justice, fairness, dignity, well-being, freedom and equality to the standard emphasis on efficiency. The Elgar Companion to Social Economics brings together the leading contributors in the field to elucidate a wide range of recent developments across different subject areas and topics. In so doing the contributors also map the likely trends and directions of future research. This Companion will undoubtedly become a leading reference source and guide to social economics for many years to come.
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Chapter 17: Work: Its Social Meanings and Role in Provisioning

Deborah M. Figart and Ellen Mutari


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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