How Can We Strengthen the Contributory Logic of Work?

By Lisa Herzog

The crisis has made clear that there is a logic of work that differs from the market logic and has long been overshadowed by it. You could call it a contributory or functional logic: what do individuals in certain occupations contribute to society, which function does their job fulfill? We now see this very clearly in the notion of “systemically relevant jobs” and also in the public recognition of nurses, supermarket staff, and garbage collectors (see also this piece I recently wrote).

The question I am asking myself is: how can this contributory logic be strengthened, so that we don’t fall back into the pure logic of supply and demand, with wages determined according to bargaining power, after the crisis? We certainly need to regulate some labor markets better and pay higher wages in some areas of public employment. But how exactly should this be done, what criteria can we use? I am not optimistic that we could ever find a perfect matrix that would evaluate and compare the contributions individuals make. But could we, for example, use the capability approach, developed by Sen and Nussbaum, for thinking about the relative importance of different jobs? Maybe we could at least get rid of certain clear injustices, even though we may never reach perfect justice!

The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has introduced the distinction between practices and institutions: practices are oriented towards values that they want to realize, while institutions are the outward shells in which practices take place, but in which individuals orient themselves towards power, money, or status. What I mean by contributory or functional logic is related to MacIntyre’s notion of practice. But practices cannot exist in vacuo; they need institutions to host them. How can institutions be homes for practices without crowding out the contributory logic? How can institutions such as hospitals, schools, and maybe even businesses be organized around it?

This text is part of the #DossierCorona thread #workingfutures and was first published as part of the series “Wiko Briefs – Working Futures in Corona Times” of the Working Futures Network at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. The authors are members of the transnational network “Working Futures” or Fellows of the Wissenschaftskolleg.


Lisa Herzog is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy and the Center for Philosophy, Politics and Economics of the University of Groningen, Netherlands. She is a former fellow (2017/2018) of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and one of the coordinators of the “Working Futures” Network at Wiko.


Further articles in the thread #workingfutures of the #DossierCorona on TRAFO:

Introducing #DossierCorona #workingfutures, 14 May 2020.


Citation: Lisa Herzog, How Can We Strengthen the Contributory Logic of Work?, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 14.05.2020, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/23935.


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