Lectures 3 and 4: Surviving Well

NOTE: These notes can be read in conjunction with the pdfs of Lecture 3 powerpoint slides and Lecture 4 powerpoint slides.


These two lectures were based on Chapter 2, Take Back Work: Surviving Well. The overall aim was for students to consider the different forms of 'work' that we do and how these forms of work contribute to or undermine people's wellbeing AND to also consider how different forms of work contribute to or undermine eplanetary wellbeing.

(As we did not finish the previous week’s class on Theoretical Perspectives, we used some time at the start of Lecture 3 to wrap-up this material).


FIRST, we started with two provocations about work and surviving well. We watched a little video upload from the documentary Happy which features Mano J Singh, a rickshaw puller in Kolkata, India, who works 12 to 14 hours a day. The upload is available from the Happy website (see my comments below about the director of the documentary). Then we watched an extract of the documentary about Heidemarie Schwermer from Germany (we watched 20:42 – 25:50). In 1997 and in her 60s, Heidemarie basically gave away what she owned, except for what she could pack into one suitcase. Since then she has lived a life without money. As she says to a shop-owner whose floor she is mopping in return for some food (in part of the extract that we watched), “It doesn’t work the way it is now. You have to work all the time while others have nothing.” Both of these clips raise issues about the role that paid work plays in our life and the connection between work and wellbeing.

The students worked in pairs to identify why we watched the two clips and what they say about the relationship between working and surviving well. When we discussed the two clips, students particularly commented on Heidemarie as someone they found “inspirational” because she was “an ordinary person who did something.” (See slides 1 to 5).

SECOND, we talked about the idea of surviving well in terms of the five different forms of wellbeing identified in Take Back the Economy (TBTE) (pp. 21-22). Working in pairs, the students 'assessed' the wellbeing of Mano and Heidemarie. (See slides 6 to 9).

THIRD, the students worked through the Taking Back Work, Chapter 2 Tool. They worked alone to assess their own wellbeing, then worked in pairs to assess plantetary wellbeing. One student found that WWF has done a lot of work on Hong Kong’s Ecological Footprint. The most recent report (2014) identifies that on average Hong Kong has an ecological footprint of 3.1 (just over double the global average of 1.5 Earths).

The documentary Happy is directed by Tom Shadyak who has also produced/directed/written a bunch of films including Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty (with Jim Carrey), and The Nutty Professor (with Eddie Murphy). And he's made documentaries like I Am, which is based on a rethink of his life after a 2007 bicycle accident left him with post-concussion syndrome (it uses the sound grab 'The shift is about to hit the fan'). After the accident he become a 'downshifter.' As we discuss in the chapter, downshifters are people who simplify their life by cutting back on paid work, and income, in order to spend more time on the things that have meaning in their life, e.g. family, friends, their own activities. Downshifters come from across the income-spectrum; it’s not just those who are well-off who make this decision. Although in Shadyak’s case, there’s no doubt he is a well-off downshifter.
In 2015, there was an Australian online series, The Equilibrium Challenge, that worked with men in senior management positions to reduce their paid work and get more of a work-life balance. The rationale is that if conditions are to change for workers, then managers have to take a leadership role and also make changes; plus if things are going to change for women in terms of family responsibilities, then men also have to change.



This week I wanted to situate “Taking Back Work” in terms of what other people have written about work and wellbeing.

FIRST, we did a quick overview of last week’s class, then moved onto Colin Williams’ research on the prevalence of different forms of work (using his 2005 book, A Commodified World? and his chapter on non-commodified labour in The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization (2014)) (see slides 1 to 12). (He also has a 2016 article in Area with Richard White, Beyond capitalocentricism: are non‐capitalist work practices ‘alternatives’?). If there was more time, we could have replicated Williams’ case studies by identifying the diverse labour practices in a task; in someone’s daily life; in an organisation; and in a locality (slide 11). We finished this section by raising the diverse/community economy issue—it’s one thing to identify a diversity of work practices but which of these practices are the basis for building community economies? (See slide 12).

SECOND, we looked at indicators of wellbeing (building on last week’s exercise in which they explored their own 24-hour clock, and individual and planetary wellbeing) (slides 13 to 17). Students then worked in pairs to research what they could about four different indicators of wellbeing produced by different agencies:

They found the Canadian Index of Wellbeing; the Genuine Progress Indicator (Maryland Dept of Natural Resources); and the OECD’s Better Life Index. Students did this in-class research using their mobile devices (which I had asked them to bring along). And they looked at the examples in terms of three questions (slide 17). When the students presented, there was lots of discussion of the different aspects of wellbeing that these indicators feature, but the link between work and wellbeing only came out through lots of prompting (this is a hard one).

THIRD, we opened up the pages of TBTE to look at the collective actions in this section. There was really only time to do a quick overview of the different types of work and the connection to different types of wellbeing as we needed to do one final task in this lecture. I wanted to get the students thinking about their major assessment task (their case study), so we had a bit of discussion about which chapter each student was thinking of focusing on for their case study.