Transforming work: perspectives from scholarship on degrowth, post-growth, postcapitalism and craft labour

By Olga Vincent and Amanda Brandellero
Een rij boeken

Reenvisaging work – how it is organised, constructed, and valued – is an essential part of sustainability transformation that addresses growth-oriented provisioning systems and profit-maximizing business models. Can we work differently – for the thriving of the people and the planet? This question has been at the heart of degrowth, post-growth, postcapitalist and craft literature. In their recently published paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production, Olga Vincent and dr. Amanda Brandellero analysed 121 articles from these strands of literature, to uncover the challenges and potential for more transformative work.

At the moment, paid work is often about creating commodities for the market and getting financial return. Working time is significantly associated with environmental pressures, as countries with longer working hours consume more resources and emit more carbon. Furthermore, many jobs are low-quality, under-rewarded, insecure, stressful or over-managed. That is why it is important to consider alternative ways of organizing work that could both improve personal wellbeing and reduce stress on the environment.

Degrowth and post-growth 

Degrowth and post-growth scholars advocate for reduction of paid working hours, either through four workdays a week, six-hour workdays, or longer holidays. They argue that this measure could lead to higher quality of life and lower greenhouse gas emissions, especially when accompanied by sustainable consumption practices and policies.

Another big topic in degrowth and post-growth scholarship is the need to expand work imaginaries, which means: recognizing and valuing unpaid activities, as well as working to satisfy individual and community needs instead of working to generate profit and accumulating capital. Scholars emphasize that producing material wealth should be not a goal in itself, but a way to sustain the production of livelihoods.


Scholarship on postcapitalism often highlights the importance of economic democracy when workers have a voice in determining production processes and the distribution of profit. For example, scholars that studied cooperatives in Argentina found that collective responsibility leads to greater sense of belonging and a more humane work environment.

Very often, however, published papers remain at a high level of abstraction with theoretical debates about automation of work and subsequently more leisure time, as well as about introduction of Universal Basic Income. There is no one common opinion on these topics with some scholars being rather critical of these proposals.

Similarly to the degrowth literature, we can see calls to engage with the underlying logics of capitalism with the goal to shift the focus from the abstract reproduction of value expressed in monetary terms to the concrete reproduction of life. One of the arguments on why such shift is important is proposed by Browne: ‘In the capitalist time economy, care for all always appears to be too expensive, despite its evident social utility’. To reverse this logic, it is suggested to provide legitimacy to production that creates social utility rather than a successful sale.


In our review of literature on craft and work, we found that makers get higher satisfaction from work if they have autonomy over the execution of tasks and are involved in the decision-making process of the company. Various empirical papers demonstrate that craftspeople develop a deep connection and commitment to their work because of how immersed they are into different aspects of production: from design to manual execution. Materials, tools and machines become part of meaning and value-making processes, as craftspeople get inspiration from the matter through experimentation and study of an original form and context. This type of resonant relationship with the material world is very relevant in the conditions of humanity overshooting six out of nine planetary boundaries. Another interesting finding is that practices of craftspeople are rooted in a type of inter-generational thinking that is much needed to solve sustainability challenges. For example, by applying traditional building techniques, stonemasons feel connected to both the past and the future, and their outputs will remain useful to future generations.


Our review shows that degrowth, post-growth, postcapitalist and craft scholarships intersect and converge on several levels. Common themes that emerged from our analysis include themes of autonomy, dealienation, and value creation. In the paper, we discuss all of them, but here we briefly focus only on the topic of value creation. Craft work does not amount to commodity production alone. In fact, craftspeople create multiple types of value, including the reproduction of culture, heritage, knowledge, and skills and the nurturing of trust and human connection. This multiple value creation aligns well with the ideas of degrowth and postcapitalist scholars on bottom-up definitions of value that support (re)production of life instead of capital accumulation. 

Last but not least, we found that for the craftspeople operating in the capitalist market economy, uncertainty is a widespread phenomenon. In the economy based on efficiency, high productivity, and competition, craftspeople often cannot afford to spend enough time for resonant relationships with the tools, materials, and their community unless they blur the boundaries between leisure and work, which in some cases leads to self-exploitation. A systemic change might be needed to result in this type of working and living. Degrowth and postcapitalist scholarship are at early stages of elaborating concrete proposal to enable the change, however these need to be further empirically researched to understand if they align well with the realities of workers.

We believe that discussion about transforming work is essential in the context of sustainability transformation. It is not just the transformation of work but also transformation through work that is being discussed. In this case, unlocking the agency of workers through decision-making power and resonant relationship with the material world might be a critical component to redesign production processes for the thriving of the people and the environment.

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes