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Work, consumerism and the new poor

Zygmunt Bauman

Open University Press, 1998, 99 s., ISBN 0335201555

  • Can poverty be fought and conquered by orthodox means?
  • Should we seek new solutions like 'decoupling' the right to livelihood from the selling of labour and extending the socially recognised concept of work?
  • How urgent is it to confront these social questions and find practical answers?

It is one thing to be poor in a society of producers and universal employment; it is quite a different thing to be poor in a society of consumers, in which life projects are built around the consumer choice rather than work, professional skills or jobs. If 'being poor' once derived its meaning from the condition of being unemployed, today it draws its meaning primarily from the plight of a flawed consumer. This is one difference which truly makes a difference - in the way living in poverty is experienced and in the chances and prospects to redeem its misery.

This absorbing book attempts to trace this change, which has been taking place over the duration of modern history, and to make an inventory of its social consequences. On the way, it tries also to consider to what extent the well remembered and tested means of fighting back advancing poverty and mitigating its hardships are fit (or unfit) to grasp and tackle the problems of poverty in its present form. Students of sociology, politics and social policy will find this to be an invaluable text on the changing significance and implications of an enduring social problem.

Table of Contents:
Part 1 The meaning of work - producing the work ethic
- from work ethic to the aesthetic of consumption.

Part 2 The rise and fall of the welfare state
- the work ethic and the new poor.

Part 3 Prospects for the new poor.