How “work” is framed
Aug 31, 2011 – There are two frames for work: obedience and exchange (as identified by the cognitive scientist George Lakoff). In the work-as-obedience frame, there’s an authority (the employer) and there’s obedience to the commands of authority (ie work). This obedience is rewarded (pay).
In the work-as-exchange frame, work is conceptualised as an object of value which belongs to the worker. This is exchanged for money.
Different consequences apply depending on the type of framing. In the obedience frame, the worker is expected to make personal sacrifices to the employer. This may help to explain why, each year, workers are giving £29 billion in total unpaid overtime to their companies (according to TUC figures).
(Consider also that the average worker spends 139 hours a year commuting – another sacrifice).
Remember that frames function “below” consciousness, according to the cognitive scientists. Why do people tolerate a situation in which income is dependent on obedience (to people they might regard as idiots)? Perhaps it’s because our upbringing results (in most cases) in the work-as-obedience frame being a familiar part of our neurology (consider the paternal representation of school/employer).
In adulthood, this work frame infantilises us, and it’s reinforced by the paternal-strictness type of attacks on the unemployed from politicians and media. Terms such as “workshy” and “scrounger” don’t suggest people aged 45+ who have lost their jobs.
* Note: the above Express front page isn’t today’s – it’s from our archives, 16/8/10.