Notes on the Meaning of Work: Labor, Work, and Action in the 21st Century

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is growing evidence that the nature of work is evolving, with the emergence of new forms such as open innovation and crowdsourcing, freelancing and the gig economy and artificial intelligence, and robotics. Debates about the consequences of these changes are flourishing. However, it seems that what work means for different protagonists varies. This essay proposes to explore how philosophers have thought about work to analyze recent empirical phenomena. It combines Hannah Arendt’s distinction between labor, work, and action with Nancy Harding’s distinction between labor and work to investigate activities that might or might not be described as work. It examines two technology-enabled platforms representative of the “gig economy”: on-demand mobile workforce and crowdsourcing for innovation. More broadly, in this time of constant change, tracing conceptual boundaries between different human activities allows us to reveal the social and political implications of new activities described as work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-220
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Management Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • philosophy of science
  • qualitative research
  • quality of work life

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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