Normalisation, exclusion, commensuration: work, economics and the possibilities of political economy

Frederick H. Pitts

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This paper discusses the means by which work is normalised, some of the manifestations of its normalisation, and the possibilities for the denormalisation of work provided by the renewal of ‘political’ economy. It suggests that normality is not a static, fixed status which attaches itself permanently to a given social practice or phenomenon, but is subject to a process, constantly in movement and in need of reinforcement. This process is what we might call ‘normalisation’. Normality is attained by means of normalisation not only in policy or popular ideology, but moreover in academic representations of the world. Academic representations do not simply reflect an external social reality, but are part of it. This paper asks what is left out in economic accounts of work, and what is missing when stock is taken only of numbers. It is suggested that political economy politicises that which the economic reason of pure economics, which has superseded it hegemonically, obfuscates. Work is central among those social phenomena that economics helps reduce to abstract, quantitative residues of what are in fact more complex networks of social relations, disciplining procedures, and modes of resistance. This paper suggests that the ‘normality’ that work possesses in capitalist society can be challenged by making these qualitative aspects ‘public’, making apparent the essential uncertainty underlying work in the context of a society moving away from it, and exposing the irreconcilable demands and desires on which its unsteady normality teeters, confronting the smooth quantitative space of economics with that which it fears most: difference, heterogeneity, incommensurability. By making these aspects public, they are rendered political and thus subject to critique. The critique and repoliticising of work opens up the opportunity of its ideological contestation and, ultimately, the possibility of its overcoming.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2015


  • Work
  • Labour
  • Political Economy
  • critique of political economy
  • normalization


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