Prefiguration and the futures of work

Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, Frederick Harry Pitts

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this chapter, we suggest that a postcapitalist society will not come through the suite of options presently on offer, which seek to escape work alone (principally via automation and universal basic income) rather than the social relations that characterise capitalist society. The association between transcending capitalist social relations and transcending work misses what is specific about capitalism; that
is, not capitalism’s productive activity but rather the social conditions that underpin a society where we must work to live in the first place, and the specific social forms the results of production assume in the market and society as a whole. The notion of ‘form’ points to the historical condition of transitoriness in how labour exists in and against capital, and capitalist social relations exist through categories of social domination (Dinerstein, 2018, p 537). These social forms are political (the state), economic (value) and legal (the law). They constitute ‘real abstractions’ through which capitalism exists and is reproduced. We thus contest both the common interpretation that the problem with capitalism is work and the proposed solution of prefigurative forms featuring less or no work. In taking work as the basis of capitalism as an exploitative system, postwork utopian alternatives are not so much incorrect as incomplete. In contemporary society, work is not just work (an activity undertaken to produce something) but capitalist work (labour). This chapter explores the implications of this insight for how we understand prefiguration and the futures of work. First, we explain how specifically capitalist relations of social reproduction precondition work, and the relevance of this for prefigurative politics. We then set out how work in a capitalist society is mediated by abstract social forms, and the relevance of this for how we create prefigurative alternatives to the unfolding futures of work. Subsequently, we reflect on the impact of these insights on the wider question of how prefiguration is understood in theory and practice. We conclude the chapter by considering the importance of these discussions to contemporary notions of a forthcoming postwork society.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Future is Now
Subtitle of host publicationAn Introduction to Prefigurative Politics
EditorsLara Monticelli
Place of PublicationBristol
PublisherBristol University Press
Publication statusAcceptance date - May 2021


  • prefiguration
  • bloch
  • value
  • work
  • abstract labour


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