“Tedd Siegel’s book is an extended reflection on the nature of work in our times and the refusal of newgenerations to embrace its exhausting ethos and precarious conditions. After a serious dialogue with a number of past theoretical perspectives, the author urges collective action to generate a new life regime in which labor is harmoniously part of it. Siegel’s proposal is not a new utopia, but a profound examination of current labor conditions and a call to re-direct processes from private solutions and profit appropriation to social distribution.” ~ Arturo Giraldez, University of the Pacific, author of The Age of Trade: The Manila Galleons and the Dawn of the Global Economy (2015)

“Siegel’s critical argument is grounded not only in a negative judgement of actually existing work today, but also in positive normative beliefs oriented toward the future: that contemporary workers, individually and collectively, are worthy of richer, freer existences grounded in autonomous decisions about how to value their lives and those of others.” ~ Tyrus Miller, UC Irvine, author of Georg Lukács and Critical Theory: Aesthetics, History, Utopia (2022)

Signs of the Great Refusal: The Coming Struggle for a Post-Work Society

In recent years, developed countries have seen the rise of a popular literature and social media discussion concerning “the problem with work today.” Since this literature tends to reflect the frustrations of the professional-managerial class (as well as other workers in globalized services industries in the digital age), it is often at a significant distance from the concerns of the organized labor movement and the traditional Left. Much of this literature presents what amounts to an unacceptable either/or: workers are encouraged either to “lean-in,” and become better “human capitals,” or else they are being offered palliative care for these same “neoliberal selves” by means of admonitions to undertake personal projects of self-optimization, recovery, and wellness.

In Signs of the Great Refusal, Tedd Siegel challenges the assumptions supporting this set of highly constrained possibilities, asking instead about what it might take to de-privatize and re-politicize work itself under contemporary conditions, in order to make a broad-based politics of refusal potentially viable. Where post-work, anti-work, and degrowth discussions taking place today often describe and promote various “post-work imaginaries” in which the de-commodification of labor is only implied, Signs of the Great Refusal is concerned specifically with the “post-work political imaginary.” Taking up a question formulated by Peter Fleming, Siegel asks, “Can the impossibility at the heart of contemporary capitalism be politically activated to oppose and escape work-as-we-know-it?”