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Selling the Work Ethic: From Puritan Pulpit to Corporate PR [Paperback]

Sharon Beder
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 Feb 2001
Subjected to the discipline of work and production, people's living standards have risen across the North and in the most economically dynamic areas of the South. But material affluence is accompanied by increasing levels of stress, insecurity, depression, crime, and addiction. The environmen that life itself depends on is also being destroyed. This book is a history of the capitalist culture of work.

Product details

  • Paperback: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Zed Books Ltd (1 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1856498859
  • ISBN-13: 978-1856498852
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.4 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,218,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


" Beder's analysis is comprehensive, steely and clinical." -- "The Guardian "(UK)
" If you beg, steal, borrow or buy only one book this year, make it this one--it is the most important contribution to the environmental debate I have read." -- "The Ecologist"

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic!!! You gotta check it out! 28 Feb 2002
By .
This book is quite simply a mind bender.
After reading it, its likely that your
thinking on work will never quite be the same
Don't take my word for it.
Search on the web for the author's name and
you will find the homepage which features
articles by same.
You won't regret it.
Believe me.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So that's where it all turned to custard!! 26 Sep 2001
By A Customer - Published on
Have you ever wondered why people introduce themselves by saying "what they do"? Have you ever wondered why "work" is so central to everything we say, do, or think about? Well this book answers a lot of those questions. I found that I would read a chapter and then think about it for a couple of days before moving on because it shook my very foundation THAT HARD. I can't recommend this book enough.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine piece of work! - worthwhile work, that is! 2 Oct 2001
By . - Published on
As always, Dr. Sharon Beder presents us with some
mind-altering analysis, which will probably change
your view of the world and, what is valuable therein.
After reading this, a pleasure in itself, you will
come away with a much better understanding of why
our societies run the way they do and, how they
will have to run differently if we want to have a
realistic chance of ending the madness, of creating a more
human world, which our ancestors will be able to live in...
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Work as pathological obsession 26 Mar 2005
By Malvin - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"Selling the Work Ethic" by Sharon Beder is a highly readable and thought-provoking history of how work has come to dominate our society. Using thorough documentation and skillful analysis, Ms. Beder contends that today's pathological obsession with work is a direct result of the capitalist production of human subjectivity. The author argues that a change in priorities from production and consumption to one that privileges the quality of life and the environment is needed to resuscitate our frayed society.

Section One discusses the Reformation and the transition from precapitalism to the present. Ms. Beder contrasts the anti-materialist teachings from ancient Greece and the early Christian church with the Protestants who gave a voice to the emerging capitalist class by equating prosperity with virtue. As time progressed, business-sponsored schools, churches and newspapers promoted the work ethic and coerced labor to accept the discipline of the factory. The effectiveness of this mass propaganda is attested to the fact that despite declining real wages and growing inequality, the myth of the American Dream persists to the present day.

Section Two is on the topic of motivating work. Ms. Beder begins with Taylor and Ford to show how industrialists experimented with various methods for controlling and exploiting the workforce. But as welfare capitalism subsequently sought to create emotional and familial bonds with employees and curb union militancy, the downsizing and job insecurity of the postmodern era has shattered the employment contract. Hence the recent restructuring of government welfare programs has been necessitated to punish the poor into accepting menial jobs that otherwise might go unfilled.

Section Three is about conditioning. The education system molds students for production through overwork and instills the ethos of competition by organizing team sports. Mass marketing leads to increased consumption of the commodities that signify status in a society of mass anonymity. Unfortunately, the stress of working long hours to achieve material success manifests itself in a myriad of social maladies including anxiety, obesity and rampant drug abuse.

Ms. Beder concludes that the work ethic crowds out time for people to reflect on the deeper meaning of their lives and to work collectively towards change. While the author offers little guidance as to how people might move beyond this impasse, those who do take the time to read her book are rewarded with greater insight and understanding. In this respect, then, "Selling the Work Ethic" may help readers begin to deconstruct and challenge the status quo.

I highly recommend this book to everyone.
5.0 out of 5 stars Missing Chapter from Most Management Books 27 Dec 2010
By Dmitry Vostokov - Published on
I found this book in a local library a few months ago and was intrigued by its title and table of contents. After reading it from cover to cover I must say I was really surprised to learn much more about capitalism and the unfolding of consumer society than I learnt during Soviet era from Marxist propaganda. Having a big management library myself I would say I never questioned why all these management books were printed. To know why you need to read this book. Funny enough, after reading, I stumbled across the demo of a computer game about Sponge Bob where he was about to start working hard to be promoted to a management position. Walking around his house he met a welfare creature who asked him not to forget him after the promotion. The whole episode now looks from a fresh selling work ethic perspective especially when I learnt that the CD came from a packet of children food bought in Tesco (selling work values to kids?). I liked the book and bought another one from the same author: This Little Kiddy Went to Market: The Corporate Assault on Children and also a biography Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.

Dmitry Vostokov
Management Bits and Tips blog
4.0 out of 5 stars This book is a real weak up call 17 July 2001
By A Customer - Published on
A very lucid description of today's corporate attitude towards its employees and work in general. The book shows how corporations in the Western World are cashing in big times at the expense of both employee and consumer naivity. The book's style is extemely cursive and easy, in fact I could not put the book down, I had to read it in one sitting.
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