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HAPPINESS AT WORK

IN CONTEMPORARY CAPITALISM

Federico Campagna

Student Number: cu901fc


Academic year 2009/2010

Theories of the Culture Industry


MA in Cultural Studies
Goldsmiths, University of London
METHODOLOGICAL NOTE

This research was developed through an extensive use of existing literature on the issue,
rather than doing field- research.

However, it is necessary to clarify the use of different types of literature in the making of this
paper.

While in the second part of the paper all sources of quotations are books, in the first part they
are mostly documents available on the internet. This is due to the different nature of those
who i call ‘the believers’ and ‘the disbelievers’ in the discourse over happiness at work.

While the ‘disbelievers’ are mostly academics, the ‘believers’ are mostly consultants.
Consultants sell services and, in order to sell them, they have to provide as much information
as possible over the most used of all the media - that is, the Internet.

Moreover, the choice of an extensive use of management literature (a ‘minor’ genre of


literature) was taken with an eye to the methodological lesson of Boltanski and Chiapello,
who explained their use of management literature in the making of their book The New Spirit
of Capitalism:

We believe nevertheless that the historical importance of the practices that are
being recommended in such texts is much higher than their statistical
representation such as it can be measured over the same period of time. These are
best practices which can in fact be viewed both as the modus operandi of an
influential avant-garde, and also as the practices that are applied by the world’s
largest multinationals—firms whose impact on the economic sphere is much higher
than suggested by the proportion of private sector workers (versus the total number
of workers) who are directly employed by them. 1

1Luc Boltanski, Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, International Journal of Politics, Culture
and Society (2005) 18:161–188 DOI 10.1007/s10767-006-9006-9, pp.161-162
HAPPINESS AT WORK - THE BELIEVERS

Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love
but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work
and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, 1923

In the last few years, the topic of ‘happiness at work’ has become increasingly important in
business literature, following modernizing management circles’ adoption of a branch of
psychologic research on the role of emotions and affectivity on interpersonal behaviors and
decision-making processes.2

Due to the nature of such a convergence of disciplines, the discourse over ‘happiness at work’
maintains a double focus on the conditions of individuals’ psychological well-being, on the
one hand, and on the benefits that an increase in workers’ happiness could have on the general
level of productivity of an enterprise, on the other.

Happiness, or subjective well-being of employees has, not surprisingly, been shown


to bring benefits to employers as well as employees and evidence suggests that the
happiness is a pre-condition for good work performance and career success. 3

Following this new awareness on the topic, a whole new branch of b2b services emerged.
Dozens of independent consultants and consulting agencies started offering services aimed to
provide companies and individuals with the necessary tools and know-how to ‘release’ their
‘potential of happiness’ and, consequently, their potential in terms of productivity. 4

It is possible to divide the benefits offered by happiness consultants in three main categories,
according to those who are supposed to be the main beneficiaries of such service: the
company, the management, the individual.

Author and consultant Lionel Ketchian provides us with an interesting breakdown of those
three orders of benefits.

Benefits for the company

- Increased Production: Happy people are more productive workers. [...]


Happiness not only produces a quantitative improvement, by increasing
efficiency, but also a qualitative one by making a better product by virtue of pride,
belief and commitment to one's job.

2 see, among the others: Forgas, J. P., (2002) Feeling and doing: Affective influences on interpersonal
behavior, Psychological Inquiry. Vol 13(1) Jan 2002 1-28 ; Cropanzano R., & Wright T.A., A 5-year
study of change in the relationship between well-being and job performance, Consulting Psychology
Journal: Practice and Research, 51, 252-265, (1999). Watson, D. (1988), Intraindividual and
interindividual analyses of positive and negative affect: Their relation to health complaints, perceived
stress and daily activities, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1020-1030 ; Martin L.L.,
Ward D.W., Achee J.W. & Wyer R.S., (1993) Mood as input: people have to interpret the motivational
implications of their moods, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64, 317-326 ; Folkman S., &
Moskowitz J.T., (2000) Stress, positive emotion and coping, Current Directions in Psychological
Science, 9,115-118)
3Boehm, J.K. and Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Does Happiness Promote Career Success? Journal of
Career Assessment, 16: 101-116
4see Alexander Kjerulf, Speaking and Consulting section on his website http://positivesharing.com/
speaking/
- Decision Making Ability Enhancement: Happiness reduces stress and
uncertainty [...]. Instead of creating problems, [employees] are given the tools to
become problem solvers.
- Clients Experience Happiness: [...] New customers are attracted to happy
employees working in an organization. [...]
- Decreased Absenteeism and Sick Leave: [...] Happy people are less likely to
catch colds. They recover faster from accidents and sickness than the average
person does.
- More Energy Toward Work: [...] The more people like themselves and the job
they are doing, the more energy they have. Happiness is contagious, and that
energy will spread throughout the organization.
- Teamwork Improvement: A chain is as strong as its weakest link. Enhancing the
individual with happiness strength empowers the entire organizational chain.
Unhappiness weakens the chain. Happiness creates a positive chain reaction. [...]
- Commitment To The Business: People begin to feel that they are an integral part
of the organization, and work to support it in their actions, and values. Company
moral improves, and the faithfulness factor climbs.5

As we can see, such benefits are especially aimed at improvements in productivity. In this
sense, we can consider the discourse over ‘happiness at work’ as a direct extension of the
tradition (common both to capitalism and to Soviet communism) that sees ‘growth’ as the
main aim of any economical practice.

In the meantime, though, we should notice that the list of benefits for the company also takes
into account the transformations occurred to western capitalism since the Eighties, in
accordance to what Boltanski and Chiapello call the raise of ‘the third spirit of capitalism’ 6:

First spirit Second spirit Third spirit


End of nineteenth 1940–1970 Since 1980s
Century

Forms of the - Small family - Managerial - Network firms


capital firms firms - Internet and
accumulation - Bourgeois - Big industrial biotech
process capitalism companies - Global finance
- Mass production - Varying and
- States economic differentiated
policy productions

Excitement - Freedom from - Career - No more


local opportunities authoritarian
communities - Power positions chiefs
- Progress - Effectiveness - Fuzzy
possible in organizations
“freedom - Innovation and
countries” creativity
- Permanent
change

5Lionel Ketchian, Happiness at Work, online at http://www.happinessclub.com/FairfieldCitizen/


012104.htm
6Luc Boltanski, Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism, International Journal of Politics, Culture
and Society (2005) 18:161–188 DOI 10.1007/s10767-006-9006-9, p.166
First spirit Second spirit Third spirit
End of nineteenth 1940–1970 Since 1980s
Century

Fairness A mix of domestic - Meritocracy - New form of


and market valuing meritocracy
fairness effectiveness valuing mobility,
- Management by ability to nourish
objectives a network...
- Each project is
an opportunity to
develop one’s
employability

Security - Personal - Long term - For the mobile


property, planning and the
personal - Careers adaptable
relationships - Welfare state - Companies will
- Charity, provide self-help
paternalism resources
- To manage
oneself

With an approach to production that we could call bio-economical - in reference to what


Michel Foucault called bio-power - the current capitalistic regime of production finds its main
source in the very lives of the individuals involved in the process. And yet, such a new regime
doesn’t find its justification and legitimization as an external power - as a forceful dominance
justified by its sheer strength - but rather presents itself as the answer to a need existing deep
inside both the productive process and the individuals’ emotions and lives. As Negri and
Hardt wrote in reference to their concept of Empire, the current regime of production
intervenes in people’s lives only after presenting its intervention as invoked by people
themselves.

Empire is formed not on the basis of force itself but on the basis of the capacity to
present force as being in the service of right and peace. All interventions of the
imperial armies are solicited by one or more of the parties involved in an already
existing conflict. Empire is not born of its own will but rather it is called into being
and constituted on the basis of its capacity to resolve conflicts. 7

This can be clearer if we go through some of the benefits for the management and for the
individual that Ketchian claims descend from the adoption of a ‘happy’ model of production.

Benefits for the Management:

- Employees Cherishing Their Jobs: Job satisfaction means that money is not the
only reason people do things. Motivation will become a larger incentive for
people's actions. [...]
- Supervision Enhancement: Happier people are better and more aligned with
management. Less critical supervision translates into more effective supervision
and increased productive output.
- Leadership Values: The leaders of an organization have the opportunity to create
something more than "money is the only thing that matters," mentality. They can
become part of creating a meaningful life not only for their workers and families,
but for themselves as well.

7 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press (2000), p.15
- Feeling Appreciated: [..] One of the ingredients to happiness is gratitude. When
you make someone feel appreciated they feel better about themselves and what
they are doing for the company. 8

Benefits for the Individual:

- Happiness at Home: One of the benefits for happiness at work is that people
would go home happier. Being happier at home translates into a benefit to
business because a better mental state and proper rest will mean employees can
work more efficiently and productively the next day.
- Emotional Intelligence: [...] It will increase the individual's coping skills, and
the ability to improve their self-control.
- Increased Focus: Happiness is responsible for creating an increased ability to
focus on the job at hand or the problem to be solved.
- Loving Work: Happiness at work creates the environment for people to actually
love what they do. [...] Since an employee spends 8-10 hours, five days a week at
work it accounts for a great deal of their life.
- Valuing their Positions: The reason people can actually love work is that the
management is giving people an opportunity to use happiness in their life during
working hours. Happiness allows workers to value their position at work and feel
good about their responsibilities and duties.

According to this list, benefits of happiness at work seem to refer essentially to an increase in
workers’ productivity and to a decrease in the level of conflict within the enterprise. In
particular, the mention of ‘gratitude to the management’ as one of the benefits finds its
confirm in the words of Craig Kanarich, one of the founders of Razorfish, a company that
used to be one of the main players of the New Economy - the birthplace of the discourse over
happiness at work. In his interview with author Andrew Ross, Kanarich mentions the effects
over his employees of their visits to their client’s old-school offices - as opposed to
Razorfish’s ‘happy’ environment:

“When they come back from seeing other companies, they’re like ‘I’m so sorry. I
didn’t mean to say any of those bad things. I had to eat lunch in a cafeteria with
400 people, and everyone was in cubicles.’ And they never complain again”9

Before and above those benefits, thought, it is of not secondary importance the provision of a
‘meaningfulness’ to the lives of both employees and managers. In this sense, it is important to
take into account the recurrence of links to religion and spirituality in discourses promoting
‘happiness at work’.

According to the words of Sonja Lyubomirsky, happiness itself is, today, the ultimate (if not
the last) source of any possibility of what could be called ‘the miraculous’ in one’s life:

Happiness in some ways is the Holy Grail! [...] If you are a happy person, you are
more likely to get married, to make friends, to have a bolstered immune function, to
live longer, to be more creative and productive, to earn more money, to be more
helpful and philanthropic, and both to like people more and to be liked more by
others. 10

8Lionel Ketchian, Happiness at Work, online at http://www.happinessclub.com/FairfieldCitizen/


012104.htm
9 Craig Kanarich, in Andrew Ross, No-Collar, Temple University Press (2003), p.16
10Sonja Lyubomirsky interviewed by Bret L. Simmons (August 15th 2009) online at http://
www.bretlsimmons.com/2009-08/the-how-of-happiness-my-interview-with-dr-sonja-lyubomirsky/
#ixzz0b6VoeK2X
The religious and spiritual roots of the discourse over happiness at work, though, are even
more explicit if we trace them back to pioneer works on the topic such as the 1990 book Love
Your Work! by David McKenna, President of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore,
Kentucky:

To reconnect our daily work with biblical spirituality, we must see work as a
resource of creation waiting to be redeemed by those who believe. Once redeemed
it becomes a means of grace.
[...]
I believe that God expects us to perform at our highest level of capacity in our
daily work. Whether we answer telephones, construct buildings, teach children, sell
products, or preach, our goal should be to hear His commendation, "Well done."11

However, spirituality is not just a reason behind the pursuit of happiness at work. As we can
see in the work of writers and consultants such as Lyubomirsky and Simmons, spirituality is
also one of the most powerful tools towards the achievement of happiness at work:

Spiritual people are relatively happier than non-spiritual people, have superior
mental images, cope better with stressors, have more satisfying marriages, use
drugs and alcohol less often, are physically healthier, and live longer lives. People
who perceive the divine being as loving and responsive are happier than those that
don’t.12

Even if you don’t consider yourself a spiritual person, meaningfulness and purpose
are contemporary concepts in organizational psychology. Hackman and Oldham’s
classic job characteristics model of motivation identifies meaningful work as one of
the critical components leading to valued work outcomes. [...] Here
meaningfulness was the extent to which one feels that work makes sense
emotionally, that problems and demands are worth investing energy in, are worthy
of commitment and engagement, are challenges that are welcome. 13

What is described here is a circular effect between productivity, spirituality, happiness and the
meaning of one’s life: the productive process becomes the place where the individual can
reach happiness - that is the meaning of his/her life - and where s/he exerts his/her spirituality
in order to increase his/her lever of happiness and, consequently and most importantly, his/her
level of productivity.

Also, we should consider that such a discourse is happening within a society that increasingly
finds its (only) place of existence in the workplace. Alongside the intuition of happiness as the
only meaning of a person’s life, we should consider also the (happy?) resignation to the
workplace as the main place where a person’s life is lived and to productivity as the only
parameter able to evaluate the worthiness of one’s life.

You spend a substantial portion of your life at work. Why not make that time as
professionally and personally rewarding and fulfilling as possible? [...] I believe
you really, ought to want to love what you do at work. [...] The average American
manager works 42 hours per week, but a substantial number of managers and
professionals - three in 10, or 10.8 million people - work 49 or more hours per

11 David McKenna, Love Your Work!,Victor Books (1990) pp. 23 and 147
12 Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, Penguin (2008) p. 232
13
Bret L. Simmons, Spirituality and Religion at Work, (August 24th 2009), online at http://
www.bretlsimmons.com/2009-08/spirituality-and-religion-at-work/#ixzz0bHaat0hI
week. [...] If you're going to work this hard, your work must be something you
love.14

This last quotation - with its strong, direct addressing the individual worker - leads us to
another level of the discourse over love and happiness at work. Alongside the army of
consultants and consulting agencies that provide services in this field15 there is also the peer-
to-peer universe of D.I.Y. happiness at work advisors.

Among the countless blogs where it is possible to find ‘tips for happiness and productivity at
work’, it is worth to focus on the contribution of a web applications developer such as Matt
Raible - also in consideration of the role that internet workers had in originating a relevant
part of the discourse over ‘happiness at work’.

In his article, Matt Raible shares with the readers a few considerations and tips on how to ‘get
things done’, while being ‘happy’ at the same time.

- Work on open source late at night, with a beer on your desk. [...] I still find that
I'm most productive at night. [...] However, when I get to 11 p.m., I'm not
motivated to work on anything. I've found that cracking open a beer at 11 when I
start helps me focus and quit worrying [...]. Also, on beer #2 or 3, you'll start to
forget what time it is and really start getting things done.
- Work disconnected. I've found that going to a coffee shop w/o connectivity is my
most productive environment. They have liquid motivation in the form of coffee
[...]. My most productive days are the ones where I show up at my local Einstein's
(bagel shop) at 6 a.m., have two cups of coffee, and work with my headphones on.
After the coffee and uber-productivity, I often have an awesome ride [...] and
barely notice the miles.
- Listen to music while you work. Some noise-cancelling headphones and your
favorite music can do wonders for your productivity. [...] Good music can really
help you "get into the groove" of what you're working on.
- Avoid meetings at all costs. [...] While meetings in general are a waste of time,
some are worse than others. Establish your policy of walking out early on and
folks will respect you have stuff to do. [...]
- Sleep. While working late nights can be productive in the short term, doing it
consecutively will burn you out quickly. Getting a good night's sleep can often
lead to greater productivity because you're refreshed and ready to go. [...]
- Work on something you're passionate about. I think one of the most important
catalysts for productivity is to be happy at your job. If you're not happy at work,
it's unlikely you're going to be inspired to be a more efficient person.
Furthermore, if you like what you do, it's not really "work", is it? 16

14Susan M. Heathfield, Why you really ought to want to love your work, online at http://
humanresources.about.com/od/careerplanningandadvice1/a/loveyourwork.htm
15such as the above mentioned consultants Bret L Simmons (http://www.bretlsimmons.com/about/),
Susan M Heathfield (http://humanresources.about.com/bio/Susan-M-Heathfield-6016.htm), Alexander
Kjerulf (http://positivesharing.com/about-me/), Lionel Ketchian (http://www.happinessclub.com/pages/
LRKabout.html), but also Craig Natahnson (http://www.thevocationalcoach.com/), Ed Batista (http://
edbatista.typepad.com/aboutme/), Joel Garfinkle (http://www.dreamjobcoaching.com/about) and
consulting agencies such as Chiumento (http://www.arboraglobal.com/documents/Happiness%20at
%20Work%20Index%202007.pdf), I Opener (http://www.iopener.co.uk/aboutiopener), Workplace
Wellbeing (http://www.workplacewellbeing.com.au/happinessatwork/), The Happiness Institute (http://
www.thehappinessinstitute.com/) and Gallup (http://www.gallup.com/corporate/115/About-
Gallup.aspx) amongst the others
16 Matt Raible, Tips for productivity and happiness at work, (April 14th 2009), online at http://
raibledesigns.com/rd/entry/tips_for_productivity_and_happiness
It is extremely interesting how Matt Raible’s advice pushes to an extreme the coincidence of
leisure and work on the one hand, while on the other hand pushes for an ‘uber-productivity’
that is axiomatically considered the main justification for obeying to some natural needs
(sleep) or for avoiding others (human interactions).

And yet, the most striking element of Matt Raible’s contribution only comes at the end: ‘If
you like what you do, it’s not really work’.

Or is it?
HAPPINESS AT WORK - THE DISBELIEVERS

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more  value than they?
And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?
Matthew, 6:26-27

I'm a soul boy - I'm a dole boy,


Take pleasure in leisure, I believe in joy!
Wham! - Wham! Rap (Enjoy what you do), 1983

As opposed to the eminently practical approach of those who believe in the current discourse
over ‘happiness at work’, most of the disbelievers prefer to keep a strongly historiographic
and theoretical approach.

Ironically, it is only thanks to the work of the disbelievers that is possible for us to trace the
history of the contemporary concept of ‘happiness at work’ back to its origins. However, as it
is often the case with historiography, different authors provide different readings of the same
historical process that drove the creation of the phenomenon.

In this case we can find two main focuses in disbelievers’ historiography: on the one end, the
Foucaultian issue of Governmentality, in the work of authors such as Jacques Donzelot, and,
on the other end, the issue of Refusal of Work (as understood by the Italian Workerist
movement) in the work of authors such as Franco Berardi ‘Bifo’.

Donzelot keeps his focus on the complex web of institutional actions and theories that shaped
the productive process throughout the twentieth century.

There are in fact two different lines involved here: the first of these is public,
financed by the state; its point of departure is in the administration of the
enterprise’s ‘social wastage’, the problem of its cost to society. It gives the highest
priority to the question of safety, and hence comes [...] to encounter the problem of
meaningfulness of work [...]. The second line of discussion emerges inside the
private sector and is financed by business; its point of departure relates to the
problems concerning the internal functioning of the enterprise and the objectives of
optimizing conditions and reducing costs so as to raise productivity; where it
concerns itself with the status of the industrial worker, this is to the extent that the
worker is prone to forms of behavior which deviate from the purposes of the
enterprise. 17

In his analysis of the emergence of ‘pleasure in work’, Donzelot investigates how the attempt
of combining what he calls the social and the economic has influenced the construction of a
new model of productivity.

The social stands on the side of the attribution of rights, of resistance to the logic of
production. It sets up the status of the worker against the contract which enslaves
him to productivity, the solidarity of the employed against the profits of the
employer, satisfaction through wages and leisure against the frustration of work.
The economic stands on the side of the distribution of forces for the sake of
productivity, the rationalization of jobs in the name of profit, the intensification of
work in the interest of increased production. From the 1920s on, this new bipolarity
governs the definition of sociopolitical issues [...].18

17Jacques Donzelot, Plasure in Work, in The Foucault Effect, edited by G.Burchell, C.Gordon and
P.Miller (1991), p. 268
18 Ibid p. 257
According to Donzelot, the discourse over ‘pleasure in work’ comes as a resolution of this
conflict between two divergent orders of needs.

It is not a question here of creating joy through work (nor joy despite work), but of
producing pleasure and work, and, so as better to realize this design, of producing
the one in the other. It is not a question of realizing the social through the economic
(nor against the economic), but of conjoining the two, in the interests of their
greater efficiency and lesser cost. Pleasure in work diverts people from individual
egoism as much as from nationalistic hysteria, putting before them instead a model
of happiness in an updated, corrected social domain [...].19

In defining ‘pleasure in work’, Donzelot highlights the importance of a new, emerging


‘science’ and of its meeting with the interests of control (that is, governmentality) shared both
by the state and by the capitalistic productive system. Donzelot call such a discipline ‘the
psychopathology of work’.

The coming together of psychiatrists with doctors working in industry prompted the
perception which inaugurates the psychopathology of work: [...] if work can (as
some say) make people ill, and yet (as others say) can also heal, should it not be
concluded that work is itself neither a good neither an evil, and that its effects on
the individual depends on [...] the framework of relationships in which the worker
is placed which define work for him as either meaningful or meaningless and thus
make it the bearer either of health or of illness?
[...]
The objectives assigned to this new science by the public authorities were the
prevention of those phenomena which the positivistic pre-war science of aptitudes
had proved unable to deal with on its own (industrial accidents, absenteeism,
alcoholism), together with the treatment and rehabilitation of the handicapped. 20

With the help of this new discipline, it became possible to restructure productive processes in
a way that would neutralize the social restlessness that emerged as a reaction against
Taylorism, without sacrificing the aim of a constant growth in productivity - while allowing,
at the same time, to keep some control over the social costs of the capitalistic productive
system.

Between the social audit introduced by the psychopathology of work with a view to
cutting the social cost of productivity, and the ‘societal need’ defined by the new
schools of business management, it is possible to see the perfect adequation of a
diagnosis and a remedy, the instauration of a new-found totality and the promise of
utopia finally made real... However, the effect of the application of these two
notions is (evidently) not the suppression of the imperative of productivity per se
but [...] a change in the status of this demand. The Taylorist conception of
productivity involved the reduction of a man to a factor of production [...]. But this
absolutism of productivity had led both to resistance within the enterprise, and to
injurious social side-effects which imposed a heavy cost on the collectivity as a
whole. The introduction of the social audit and of ‘societal needs’ does not enable
either of these consequences to be eliminated. But what it does provide is a set of
terms which make it possible to measure with negotiable precision the cost and
degree of acceptability of the socially harmful side-effects on the one hand, and the
reduction of resistances engendered in the enterprise on the other.21

19 Ibid, p. 280
20 Ibid, p. 262
21 Ibid, p. 269
Following this line of thought, Donzelot reaches a clear judgment of what is at stake in the
current discourse over ‘happiness at work’ or ‘pleasure in work’.

What is involved is a mobilization (in every sense of the word), rather than a
reinforcement, of the psychological subject: the crucial factor is not so much a
shifting of the frontiers between the normal and the pathological, as the making of
these frontiers into items negotiable within society in terms of a pervasive reality-
principle which weighs the meaning of life against its cost, in the presence of a
state which proposes henceforth only to chair and animate the debate.22

Lets move one step backwards now, and consider again Donzelot’s mention of a ‘resistance
within the enterprise’ that characterized the Taylorist era. What the author is talking about,
here, is not just limited to the traditional methods of resistance - such as strikes or trade
union’s pressure on the management - rather, it also takes into account those forms of
workers’ resistance that took place during the second half of the 1970s: not just a resistance to
the employer, but a resistance to work. Donzelot, together with Rousselet, calls this
phenomenon a ‘work allergy’ and describes it as a ‘collective attitude’ among younger
workers in the 1970s.

This passive refusal to work, the diminished role accorded by individuals to work in
the organization of their life, the fact of work becoming for many just a means of
procuring oneself extra cash and maintaining one’s benefit entitlement [...]; all this
gave absenteeism the quality of a collective attitude, against which it became
necessary to elaborate a strategic position.23

Although Donzelot identifies a clear link between the ‘work allergy’ and the (strategic)
introduction of a discourse over ‘pleasure in work’, it is only with the Italian Workerist
movement that this connection becomes central to the analysis of the evolution of
contemporary capitalistic production. This does not come as a surprise, considering that
(differently from Donzelot), Italian Workerism always privileged an interpretation of
historical processes according to which the dynamics of the working class come as the
original actions to which the institutions react through changes. It is this light that Franco
Berardi ‘Bifo’ sees the introduction of a capitalistic discourse over ‘happiness at work’ mainly
as a reaction to the discourse over ‘refusal of work’ developed by the working class during the
1970s.

In order to explain the development of a productive system that puts - as he says - ‘the soul at
work’, Berardi starts tracing back the origins of ‘refusal of work’ in a re-invention by the
working class of the phenomenon of alienation.

Italian Workerist thought overturned the vision of Marxism that was dominant in
those years: the working class is no longer conceived as a passive object of
alienation, but instead as the active subject of a refusal capable of building a
community starting out from its estrangement from the interests of capitalistic
society. Alienation is then considered not as the loss of human authenticity, but as
estrangement form capitalistic interest, and therefore as a necessary condition for
the construction - in a space estranged from and hostile to labor relations - of an
ultimately human relationship
[...]
Workers do not suffer from their alienation when they can transform it into active
estrangement, that is to say, into refusal.24

22 Ibid, p. 280
23 Ibid, p. 266
24 Franco Berardi ‘Bifo’, The Soul at Work, Semiotext(e) (2009), p. 23 and 46
This idea and practice of ‘refusal of work’ also finds its ground on Marx’s understanding of
Capitalism as a contradictory force, that provides both the problem and a possibility of
solution.

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labor time to
a minimum, while it posits labor time, on the other side, as sole measure and
source of wealth. [...] On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science
and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make
the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labor time employed on it. On
the other side, it wants to use labor time as the measuring rod for the giant social
forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain
the already created value as value.25

It comes helpful here to remember how one for the main slogans of the Autonomia movement
in Italy during the 1970s used to be ‘Lavoro zero/ reddito intero/ tutta la produzione/
all’automazione’ (‘zero work/full income/all production/to the automatic machines’).

When automatization would potentially be able to produce all the goods we need - was the
question of many young workers in the 1970s - what is the reason why we should work at all?

It is according to this understanding of Capitalism - claims Berardi ‘Bifo’ - that the discourse
over work and ‘happiness at work’ should be understood.

Bifo calls the contemporary organization of production in which the soul and its
affective, linguistic and cognitive powers are put to work the factory of
unhappiness because the primary function of the work in post-Fordist factory
commands is not the creation of value but the fabrication of subjectivities - the
modeling of psychic spaces and the induction of psychopathologies as a technique
of control. In a phase of capitalist development in which the quantity of socially
necessary labor is so insignificant that it can no longer seriously be considered the
measure of value, the ghostly afterlife of the order of work is an entirely political
necessity. Work is a matter of discipline, the production of docility. When work
becomes the site of libidinal and narcissistic investment, spinning a web of
abjections and dependencies that exploits rather than represses desire - we become
attached and bound to our own unhappiness. 26

Although this conclusion seem to pool Berardi and Donzelot, it should be noticed that, in his
book, Berardi keeps a closer focus on the issue of psychopathology rather then of
governmentality. On the one hand, in fact, Berardi claims that some of the reasons for this
‘new love for work’ must be found in a new, widespread, psychopathology of the social:

How did it happen that work regained a central place in social affectivity and why
did society develop a new affection for work? One reason is well known: in a
situation of competition workers are obliged to accept this primordial blackmail:
work as much as possible or die. But there is another answer we can give [...], the
loss of eroticism in the communicative experience. The reasons behind a new love
of working are to be found not only in a material impoverishment derived from the
collapse of social warranties, but also in the impoverishment of existence and
communication. [...] Metropolitan life becomes so sad that we might as well sell it
for money. 27

25Karl Marx, The Grundrisse, edited and translated by David Mc Lellan, Harper Torchbooks (1972), p.
142-143
26 Jason Smith, Preface to Franco Berardi ‘Bifo’ The Soul at Work, Semiotext(e) (2009), p. 17
27 Franco Berardi ‘Bifo’ The Soul at Work, Semiotext(e) (2009), p. 83
On the other, Berardi analyses the psychological side-effects of a discourse over happiness at
work that puts the entire ‘responsibility’ and duty to be happy on the shoulders of the
individual.

The other side of the new economy is naturally the use of psycho-stimulant or anti-
depressive substances. This is a hidden, negated, removed side, but absolutely
decisive. How many, among new economy operators, survive without Prozac,
Zoloft or even cocaine. Dependence on psychotropic substances, those one can buy
at the pharmacy and those one can buy on the street, is a structural element of the
psychopathologic economy. When economic competition is the dominant
psychological imperative of the social consortium, we can be positive that the
conditions for mass depression will be produced.
[...]
When in 1999 Alan Greenspan spoke of the ‘irrational exuberance of the market,’
his words were more of a clinical than a financial diagnosis. Exuberance was an
effect of the drugs and of the over-exploitation of available mental energy, of a
saturation of attention leading people to the limits of panic. Panic is an
anticipation of depressive breakdown, of mental confusion and disactivation. and
finally the moment of the Prozac crash came.28

28 Ibid, p. 100 and p. 98


CONCLUSIONS

The practice of happiness is subversive when it becomes collective


A/traverso collective, Bologna, 1975

But where danger is, grows


the saving power also
Friedrich Holderlin, Patmos, 1802

Before drawing any conclusions on the issue of ‘happiness at work’, it is necessary to clarify
an aspect of the division of labour in contemporary enterprises.

Within mental labor as whole we need distinguish proper cognitive labor, where
intellectual energies are engaged in a constant creative deterritorialization, and
mental labor of a purely applicative kind, which is still prevalent quantitatively.
Even within the mental labor cycle, we can distinguish brain workers from chain
workers.29

It is clear that, today, the issue of happiness at work is only applicable for ‘brain workers’,
while for ‘chain workers’ nothing major has changed from the time of old-school factories.

And yet, it is undeniable that the discourse over ‘happiness at work’ is a key element for an
understanding of current capitalist strategies of control and for a development of new
possibilities of (r)evolution within contemporary society.

In its attempt to insert itself inside the very heart of human emotions, contemporary
capitalism is transforming the nature of its control from an external force exerted over the
workers to an inner force that lives inside the individual and that is exerted by the individual
onto him/herself. Thus, contemporary capitalism is revealing its ambition of turning discipline
into self-discipline and turning its rule into a belief. It is indeed through an analysis of this
phenomenon - of which the discourse over ‘happiness at work’ is an example - that we can
notice capitalism’s re-invention as a totalizing social religion.

In doing so, capitalism is also changing its materiality. If capital used to be a matter of stock
and money, it is now increasingly becoming a matter of ‘immaterial’ resources. The reference
here is not to softwares and immaterial properties, rather, it is to the conversion of emotions
into capital itself. A prove of this could be found, once again, in the discourse over ‘happiness
at work’. As we have read in the first chapter, one of the benefits of introducing happiness in
a workplace is that the ‘money-is-everything’ mentality would disappear; people would be
motivated to (over)work by happiness-related benefits. Or, in other words, emotions would
become part of the workers’ wage. Thus, emotions start to become a (commercial) value, to
the point of partially substituting money. It must be noticed, though, that this transformation
doesn’t come as a withdrawal from an economic mentality: on the opposite, it keeps into
account the fact that, while monetary wages are only partially reinvested in the company by
the workers (through the purchase of company goods), emotional wages are completely
reinvested in the workplace and in the productive system through the process of ‘happiness at
work’.

Alongside this considerations, though, we should not to forget that this change in the nature of
capitalism and in the methods of production are also - at least partially - due to the claiming
of rights to autonomy and happiness issued by the countercultures from the 1960s and 70s. It
is undeniable that the desire for a ‘happier’ workplace and for a greater autonomy in one’s
work originate from deep, real human feelings amongst the workers.

29 Ibid, p. 87
What has to be addressed here is not the problem of whether the workplace should be a
‘happy’ place or not. Rather, in order to turn capitalism’s discourse over happiness at work
into a possible starting point for new strategies of life, the main issue we should focus on is
the connection between ‘happiness’ an ‘autonomy’ - with ‘autonomy’ understood as ‘self-
determination’. And yet, in order for an authentic state of self-determination to be at all
possible, we can not avoid facing the issue of property first. Thus, in reference to the problem
of happiness at work and in the workplace, we have to deal, first of all, with the issue of
property of work and of the workplace. Likewise, in reference to the problem of a ‘total
mobilization’ - to use Ernest Junger’s words30 - of human emotions by capital, we have to
face, first of all, the issue of property over one’s own emotions.

This is not an easy task and requires a type of economic thought that can only partially rely on
traditional marxism - as the issue here concerns property over feelings rather than material
stock. And yet, it is exactly this kind of urgent, unanswered question what is always hiding
behind some of the most valuable philosophical contributions to an understanding of new
possibilities of life in contemporary world. On example above all could be Heidegger’s essay
The Question Concerning Technology31, in which the German philosopher warns the reader
about the risks of a kind of thought - what he calls ‘modern technological thought’ or
‘enframing’ - that turns all objects and beings into ‘standing reserves’ ready for exploitation
or, as Heidegger puts it, ‘destining’. Heidegger opposes the possibility of ‘revealing’ the
world through art to technology’s attempt to ‘enframe’ it. One of the main differences of those
two different approaches - art and modern technology - is, although not explicitly, the
different regimes of ownership that they require. Technology needs to take possession of the
real, in order to ‘enframe’ and exploit it. Art, on the other hand, states the fact that reality
should own itself - it is this indeed this otherness, this lack of possession over reality what
allows the artist to ‘reveal’ the world.

Consequently, in reference to our topic, we should start considering the issue of property over
happiness and, consequently, property over one’s emotions. Obviously, this would require a
change in the use of economical thought and tools. For once, though, it wouldn’t have to be a
change towards the ‘new’, but rather a movement towards the roots of the concept. The word
economics, in its original Greek form oikonomia, refers to something very different from the
current regime of capitalism: being composed by the words oikos (house) and nomos (order),
oikonomia is the art of ordering one’s individual world in harmony with the greater harmony
of the World (the nomos). It is clear that, in order for this process of oikonomia to take place,
it is necessary for the individual to have autonomous ownership over his/her individual world
and a clear understanding of the World.

What could be, then, an oikonomia of one’s own emotions? This is, obviously, a complex
question that would require adequate space to be investigated. However, we could certainly
state that no oikonomia of one’s own emotions is possible when the individual does not have
complete and autonomous ownership over his/her emotions. Or, if we talk about a couple or a
collective, when the group of people sharing emotions does not have a full (yet shared)
ownership over them. Likewise, what could be the oioknomia of a workplace, if the workers
themselves do not have complete and autonomous ownership over it?

Finally, so to let an oikonomia of our emotions take place, it would also be necessary for the
individuals to have a clear understanding of the ‘World’ and its ‘rule’. Would it be possible to
consider the World, here, as the social, that is the shared ground of communication and
interactions between individuals? If this was the case, then, social critique and cultural studies
would have to be re-considered according to another possible, different use.

30see Total Mobilization in The Heidegger Controversy. A Critical Reader. Edited by Richard Wolin.
Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press (1993), pp. 122-139.
31Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology, in Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell
Krell, Routledge (1993)
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