The Devil Makes Work by Clarke and Critcher | Review
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Published: Thu, 19 Jul 2018
In this essay I shall review The devil makes work by Clarke and Critcher. Using wider information I shall evaluate the books strengths and weaknesses and suggest implications for the sociology of leisure.
The book deals with the historical development of what we now call leisure. The change from older forms of economic markets to capitalist industrialisation forced a schism in the work/leisure relationship. “The identification of leisure as the sphere in which needs are satisfied and pleasure found simultaneously makes work less susceptible to criticism as unsatisfactory and more salient as that which has to be tolerated to ‘earn’ the freedom of leisure.”
This demarcation is seen as the principle victory, in a stream of relatively uncontested battles, of capitalism in regards to leisure. The alienation of labour is made more tolerable by leisure activities and pursuits. Work became a means to an end, leisure.
The sphere of leisure offered the ruling classes the opportunity to restrict and control workers lives further, in insidious ways, permeating what was supposed to be ‘free’ time. “If the working class wants alcohol and music, it shall have them – but only to be consumed under certain conditions.” Under the guise of caring for workers needs, and by setting up institutions of leisure, the dominant ruling classes could ensure that time away from work was spent in activities deemed appropriate. The point of this control was to ensure their productivity thus perpetuating the capitalist market.
“The establishment of leisure as consumption…has also been of considerable significance.” This was capitalism’s second great victory. The capitalist process, at its most fundamental, is consumption. By turning leisure into a commodity, to be bought, sold and used, revenue could be exploited. The irony and hypocrisy of the sphere of leisure, supposedly free of capitalist ideology, feeding that ideology with new avenues of revenue, production and reproduction, is shown by Clarke and Critcher.
The book points out the fallacy of the ‘freedom’ of leisure. “The much vaunted democracy of the market-place rests on the rather less democratic foundations of the profoundly unequal distribution of wealth.” Instead of resistance to the fact that choice is limited, nay controlled, by the market, we, the consumer, value what choices we do have all the more. Choice in leisure is curtailed by social division and unequal distribution. Clarke and Critcher indicate a direct link between the alienation of work, to an alienation of leisure, precisely because they conceptualise leisure as being a by product of what we term as work. Leisure is defined by work, caused by work and needed because of work.
Resistance to leisure models is ultimately futile. The market can not completely control how leisure products are used, the young especially tend to use them in ways never envisioned. This would be seen as resistance except, “Such strategies may modify but cannot challenge the market/consumer model. Before we can modify the meaning and use of any commodity, we must first enter the market as consumers to acquire it.”
“The major forms and definitions of leisure seem to be changing under the diverse pressures of economic recession and the transition to a post-industrial society.” The piece ends with some predictions. The current (1985) change to a post industrial society would cause mass unemployment. This unemployment would greatly impact leisure, not least because in the capitalist model leisure time is a reward for work, when a person isn’t working they receive fewer rewards.
Clarke and Critcher’s work has its place in a continuum of Marxist thought.
Simmel stated, “In this context then, the history of forms of leisure is the history of labour … The exhaustion of our mental and physical energies in work lead us to require …leisure.’” These notions support the work of Clarke and Critcher, that leisure is a reward for time spent working. The real purpose of leisure is to repair and relax the worker ready to once more be a useful member of the industrial complex.
The ruling Bourgeois idea of leisure, for Veblen, was conspicuous consumption, the ostentatious display of wealth through the purchase of commodities. For Freud, it was, “ Just this ‘objectivity’ which…viewing the individual as…consumer…regarded pleasure as the consequence of possessing valued objects.” Freud depicted the Bourgeois ego as deriving its pleasure from owning commodities. This pleasure was leisure and inexorably, both implicitly and explicitly, the subordinate classes were compelled to adopt this view because, “the ideas of the bourgeois class are the ruling ideas in society.” These notions support Clarke and Critcher’s assumptions.
Clarke and Critcher state that their work, “Does not attempt to lay to rest all those complex definitional questions about what is or is not leisure.” Moorhouse raises the very salient point that one could consider it blithely ignorant to conduct research without first defining what it is one is researching. Clarke and Critcher rely on the ‘self evident’ truth of what leisure is. ‘Self evident’ truths are, quite often, less than self evident. They rely on common sense notions, but in this case sense is not necessarily common. For Moorhouse, their treatment of work is crude and their definition of leisure spurious. They refuse “To allow that paid labour can be, for most, a source of satisfaction, purpose, creativity, qualitative experience, and so on.”
Classical assumptions of the nature of work and leisure may no longer be sufficient. Clarke and Critcher themselves state that they are writing during a time of transition to ‘post-industrial’ society. If one takes this claim seriously then it has important implications. “The introduction of flexi-time and the development of human relations techniques in management have made the workplace less oppressive and monotonous for many workers…Moreover, technical progress enables paid employment to be conducted from the home.” Technology, in particular that most wide of world webs, has magnified the possibilities of working from home further blurring the lines of what constitutes work and leisure. The dualistic and simplistic account as found in Clarke and Critcher may no longer serve. Their account seems isolated in a very specific moment, a moment of change. As noted above, they attempted predictions. Mass and continued unemployment never occurred and one can question how much this fact weakens the conclusions they derived.
Some sociologists see leisure as a site for developing essential social networks, places that maintain and improve cohesion and interaction. If one considers Simmel’s conception that sociability is leisure in its, “Pure form,’ then one might conclude that the development of leisure networks are a ‘morally’ good occurrence that let actors enjoy true or ‘pure’ leisure, pleasure and fun.
“Social structure may also be manipulated by the intentional activities of actors.” The Marxist based argument is one sided. The bourgeois are the active oppressors, the working class the submissive victims and there is no room for any real dialogue between worker’s and capitalist ideology.  Also it assumes that capitalist ideology is uniform and coherent. The ideological structure is rarely that simple.
Feminist theorists such as Wearing raise the issues of the problem of women’s experiences of leisure. Though raised in Clarke and Crichter’s work, their account does not, perhaps, delve deeply enough into the feminist sociological perspective. The structural and pervasive ideology of Marxism is, in many ways, present in feminist accounts, however particular attention should be paid to the fact that this ideology is exclusively the preserve of men, and is not exclusively economic. Theorists such as Butler indicate the problem of explaining women’s position in society while being forced to use the only language available, the language of masculinity. Still further Collins critiques feminism as the preserve of white women only.. “If one ‘is’ a woman then that is surely not all that one is…gender intersects with racial, class, ethnic, sexual and regional discursively constituted identities.”
In conclusion, Critcher and Clarke’s work fits very neatly within Marxist theoretical framework. As such it has the strengths, and indeed weaknesses, of much Marxist and neo-Marxist theory. Using any one methodology can leave a study exposed to accusations of one dimensionalism. This is a charge that can be levelled, probably fairly, at their thesis. Not only this, but the book, timed during a change in leisure practices, is dated and some of its conclusions are clearly inaccurate. Nonetheless that is not to say that the text is of no use as it does represent many of the dominant ideas that course throughout the study of leisure. The best way to proceed is to use all of the implications noted here, and yet others, when investigating the sociology of leisure.
Leisure for leisure edited by Chris Rojek. Published by Macmillan press 1989
The devil makes work: Leisure in capitalist Britain by J Clarke and C Critcher. Published by Macmillan 1985
Leisure in society, A network structural perspective by Patricia A Stokoswki. Published by Mansell 1994
Ways of Escape by Chris Rojek. Published by Macmillan Press 1993
Leisure and Feminist Theory by B Wearing. Published by Sage 1998
Gender trouble by Judith Butler. Published by Routledge 1999
Black feminist thought by P H Collins. Published by Routledge 1990
The theory of the leisure class by Thorstein Veblen. Published by The new American library 1959
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