Division of labor

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Division of labor within a hunting group in the Stone Age.

Division of labor is the specialization of cooperative labour in specific, circumscribed tasks and like roles. Historically an increasingly complex division of labour is closely associated with the growth of total output and trade, the rise of capitalism, and of the complexity of industrialization processes.


Quotes are arranged in chronological order in every single section

Ancient history[edit]

  • Well then, how will our state supply these needs? It will need a farmer, a builder, and a weaver, and also, I think, a shoemaker and one or two others to provide for our bodily needs. So that the minimum state would consist of four or five men...
    • Plato The Republic, Page 103, Penguin Classics edition.
  • Just as the various trades are most highly developed in large cities, in the same way food at the palace is prepared in a far superior manner. In small towns the same man makes couches, doors, plows and tables, and often he even builds houses, and still he is thankful if only he can find enough work to support himself. And it is impossible for a man of many trades to do all of them well. In large cities, however, because many make demands on each trade, one alone is enough to support a man, and often less than one: for instance one man makes shoes for men, another for women, there are places even where one man earns a living just by mending shoes, another by cutting them out, another just by sewing the uppers together, while there is another who performs none of these operations but assembles the parts, Of necessity, he who pursues a very specialised task will do it best.

14th century[edit]

  • Only those who were united by the same activity were left with the same language. There was one for master builders, another for all the stonerollers. … For all the different tasks that were present at that project there arose different languages which led to the disintegration of the unity of the human race.
    • Dante (1265-1321), describing the construction of the Tower of Babel, De vulgari eloquentia, 1.7.6, cited in Rhetoric As Philosophy (1980), p. 77
  • The power of the individual human being is not sufficient for him to obtain (the food) he needs, and does not provide him with as much as he requires to live. Even if we assume an absolute minimum of food...that amount of food could be obtained only after much preparation...Thus, he cannot do without a combination of many powers from among his fellow beings, if he is to obtain food for himself and for them. Through cooperation, the needs of a number of persons, many times greater than their own number, can be satisfied.
    • Ibn Khaldun 14th-century; cited in: A. Abdullahi & A. Salawu "Ibn Khaldun: A Forgotten Sociologist?". South African Review of Sociology. (2012) Vol 13.3. p. 24-40

18th century[edit]

Plate on pin-making, from Diderot's Encyclopédie (1762)
  • But if one will wholly apply himself to the making of Bows and Arrows, whilst another provides Food, a third builds Huts, a fourth makes Garments, and a fifth Utensils, they not only become useful to one another, but the Callings and Employments themselves will in the same Number of Years receive much greater Improvements, than if all had been promiscuously followed by every one of the Five.
  • When every individual person labours a-part, and only for himself, his force is too small to execute any considerable work; his labour being employ’d in supplying all his different necessities, he never attains a perfection in any particular art; and as his force and success are not at all times equal, the least failure in either of these particulars must be attended with inevitable ruin and misery. Society provides a remedy for these three inconveniences. By the conjunction of forces, our power is augmented: By the partition of employments, our ability en creases: And by mutual succor we are less expos’d to fortune and accidents. ’Tis by this additional force, ability, and security, that society becomes advantageous.
    • David Hume (1739) A Treatise of Human Nature . About "partition of employments"
  • The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greatest part of skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labor.
  • To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture, but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of a pin-maker: a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire; another straights it; a third cuts it; a fourth points it; a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind, where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth, part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations.
  • This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.
  • There is nobody who is not surprised of the small price of pins; but we shall be even more surprised, when we know how many different operations, most of them very delicate, are mandatory to make a good pin. We are going to go through these operations in a few words to stimulate the curiosity to know their detail; this enumeration will supply as many articles which will make the division of this work... The first operation is to have brass go through the drawing plate to calibrate it.
  • It is now proper to proceed a step further, and to enumerate the principal circumstances, from which it may be inferred, that manufacturing establishments not only occasion a positive augmentation of the Produce and Revenue of the Society, but that they contribute essentially to rendering them greater than they could possibly be, without such establishments. These circumstances are:
  1. The division of Labour.
  2. An extension of the use of Machinery.
  3. Additional employment to classes of the community not ordinarily engaged in the business.
  4. The promoting of emigration from foreign Countries.
  5. The furnishing greater scope for the diversity of talents and dispositions which discriminate men from each other.
  6. The affording a more ample and various field for enterprise.
  7. The creating in some instances a new, and securing in all, a more certain and steady demand for the surplus produce of the soil.

19th century[edit]

The celebrated Adam Smith was the first to point out the immense increase of production, and the superior perfection of products referable to this division of labour.
- Jean-Baptiste Say.
  • The division of labor, which has brought such perfection in mechanical industries, is altogether fatal when applied to productions of the mind. All work of the mind is superior in proportion as the mind that produces it is universal.
    • Napoleon I of France (1769–1821), in: Napoleon : In His Own Words (1916) edited by Jules Bertaut, as translated by Herbert Edward Law and Charles Lincoln Rhodes.
  • In the employment of labour and machinery, it is often found that the effects can be increased by skilful distribution, by separating all those operations which have any tendency to impede one another, and by bringing together all those operations which can be made in any way to aid one another. As men in general cannot perform many different operations with the same quickness and dexterity with which they can by practice learn to perform a few, it is always an advantage to limit as much as possible the number of operations imposed upon each. For dividing labour, and distributing the powers of men and machinery, to the greatest advantage, it is in most cases necessary to operate upon a large scale; in other words, to produce the commodities in greater masses. It is this advantage which gives existence to the great manufactories; a few of which, placed in the most convenient situations, frequently supply not one country, but many countries, with as much as they desire of the commodity produced.
    • James Mill, (1821), Elements of Political Economy. Cited in: Karl Marx. Human Requirements and Division of Labour, Manuscript, 1844.
  • If every family produced all that it consumed, society could keep going although no exchange of any sort took place; without being fundamental, exchange is indispensable in our advanced state of society. The division of labour is a skilful deployment of man’s powers; it increases society’s production-its power and its pleasures-but it curtails, reduces the ability of every person taken individually. Production cannot take place without exchange
  • The division of labour is a consequence of the previous accumulation of capital... As the accumulation of capital must have preceded the division of labour, so its subsequent division can only be extended as capital is more and more accumulated. Accumulation and division act and react on each other. The quantity of raw materials which the same number of people can work up increases in a great proportion, as labour comes to be more and more subdivided; and acccording as the operations of each workman are reduced to a greater degree of identity and simplicity, he has, as already explained, a greater chance of discovering machines and processes for facilitating and abridging his labour. The quantity of industry, therefore, not only increases in every country with the increase of the stock or capital which sets it in motion; but, in consequence of this increase, the division of labour becomes extended, new and more powerful implements and machines are invented, and the same quantity of labour is thus made to produce an infinitely greater quantity of commodities
    • John Ramsay McCulloch (1825), The principles of political economy: with a sketch of the rise and progress of the science. p. 95-96
  • The powers inherent in man are his intelligence and his physical capacity for work. Those which arise from the condition of society consist of the capacity to divide up labour and to distribute different jobs amongst different People ... and the power to exchange mutual services and the products which constitute these means. The motive which impels a man to give his services to another is self -interest- he requires a reward for the services rendered. The right of exclusive private property is indispensable to the establishment of exchange amongst men... Exchange and division of labour reciprocally condition each other.
  • The first application of this principle must have been made in a very early stage of society; for it must soon have been apparent that more comforts and conveniences could be acquired by one man restricting his occupation to the art of making bows, another to that of building houses, a third boats, and so on. This Division of labor into trades was not, however, the result of an opinion that the general riches of the community would be increased by such an arrangement: but it must have arisen from the circumstances, of each individual so employed discovering that he himself could thus make a greater profit of his labour than by pursuing more varied occupations.
  • Thus we are brought to the third circle of this hell, which, perhaps, will some day find its Dante. In this third social circle, a sort of Parisian belly, in which the interests of the town are digested, and where they are condensed into the form known as /business/, there moves and agitates, as by some acrid and bitter intestinal process, the crowd of lawyers, doctors, notaries, councillors, business men, bankers, big merchants, speculators, and magistrates. Here are to be found even more causes of moral and physical destruction than elsewhere... Their genuine stupidity lies hid beneath their specialism. They know their business, but are ignorant of everything which is outside it. So that to preserve their self-conceit they question everything, are crudely and crookedly critical. They appear to be sceptics and are in reality simpletons; they swamp their wits in interminable arguments...
  • Nothing tends to materialize man and to deprive his work of the faintest trace of mind more than the extreme division of labor.
  • The life that I aspire to live
No man proposeth me—
No trade upon the street
Wears its emblazonry.
  • Henry David Thoreau (1841), “Independence;” Cited in: Nancy Hale (1963), New England Discovery, p. 293
  • The division of labour is the economic expression of the social character of labour within the estrangement. Or, since labour is only an expression of human activity within alienation, of the manifestation of life as the alienation of life, the division of labour, too, is therefore nothing else but the estranged, alienated positing of human activity as a real activity of the species or as activity of man as a species-being.
As for the essence of the division of labour – and of course the division of labour had to be conceived as a major driving force in the production of wealth as soon as labour was recognised as the essence of private property – i.e., as for the estranged and alienated form of human activity as an activity of the species – the political economists are very vague and self-contradictory about it.
  • Karl Marx. Human Requirements and Division of Labour, Manuscript, 1844. (online)
  • Condemning a man to machine-like labor amounts to the same thing as slavery. If a factory worker must tire himself to death twelve hours and more, he is cut off from becoming man. Every labor is to have the intent that the man be satisfied. Therefore he must become a master in it too, be able to perform it as a totality. He who in a pin-factory only puts on the heads, only draws the wire, works, as it were, mechanically, like a machine; he remains half-trained, does not become a master: his labor cannot satisfy him, it can only fatigue him. His labor is nothing taken by itself, has no object in itself, is nothing complete in itself; he labors only into another’s hands and is used (exploited) by this other. For this laborer in another’s service there is no enjoyment of a cultivated mind, at most crude amusements: culture, you see, is barred against him.
  • Man experiences a multitude of needs, on whose satisfaction his happiness depends, and whose non-satisfaction entails sufferingAlone and isolated, he could only provide in an incomplete, insufficient manner for these incessant needs.  The instinct of sociability brings him together with similar persons, and drives him into communication with them.  Therefore, impelled by the self-interest of the individuals thus brought together, a certain Division of labor is established, necessarily followed by exchanges.  In brief, we see an organization emerge, by means of which man can more completely satisfy his needs than he could living in isolation.

    This natural organization is called society.

    The object of society is therefore the most complete satisfaction of man's needs.  The Division of labor and exchange are the means by which this is accomplished.

    • Gustave de Molinari, Huston McCulloch (tr.) (1977/2009) The Production of Security, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1977. Originally in French, 1849.
  • It would be worth the while to build still more deliberately than I did, considering, for instance, what foundation a door, a window, a cellar, a garret, have in the nature of man, and perchance never raising any superstructure until we found a better reason for it than our temporal necessities even. There is some of the same fitness in a man's building his own house that there is in a bird's building its own nest. Who knows but if men constructed their dwellings with their own hands, and provided food for themselves and families simply and honestly enough, the poetic faculty would be universally developed, as birds universally sing when they are so engaged? But alas! we do like cowbirds and cuckoos, which lay their eggs in nests which other birds have built, and cheer no traveller with their chattering and unmusical notes. Shall we forever resign the pleasure of construction to the carpenter? What does architecture amount to in the experience of the mass of men? I never in all my walks came across a man engaged in so simple and natural an occupation as building his house. We belong to the community. It is not the tailor alone who is the ninth part of a man; it is as much the preacher, and the merchant, and the farmer. Where is this division of labor to end? and what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself.
  • As the chosen people bore in their features the sign manual of Jehovah, so the division of labour brands the manufacturing workman as the property of capital.
  • Those who tirelessly use the modem cry of battle and sacrifice “division of labour! Fall into line!” are for once to be told clearly and bluntly: if you want to further science as quickly as possible you will destroy it as quickly as possible; as the hen will perish if artificially forced to lay eggs too quickly. Granted, science has been furthered surprisingly quickly in the last decades: but just look at the scholars, the exhausted hens. They truly are no “harmonious” natures; they can only cackle more than ever because they lay eggs more often: of course, the eggs have become ever smaller (even if the books ever bigger).
    • Friedrich Nietzsche (1874), "On The Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life", Untimely Meditations, P. Preuss, trans. (1980) § 7
  • Success for a woman means absolute surrender, in whatever direction. Whether she paints a picture, or loves a man, there is no division of labor possible in her economy. To the attainment of any end worth living for, a symmetrical sacrifice of her nature is compulsory upon her.
  • Faced with a world of “modern ideas” which would like to banish everyone into a corner and a “specialty,” a philosopher, if there could be a philosopher these days, would be compelled to establish the greatness of mankind, the idea of “greatness,” on the basis of his own particular extensive range and multiplicity, his own totality in the midst of diversity.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, first published in 1886. I. Johnston, trans., § 212
  • The dwarf standing on the shoulders of the giant can indeed see further than his supporter, especially if he puts on spectacles; but to such a lofty survey is wanted the elevated feeling, the giant-heart, to which we cannot lay claim.
  • Life is diseased, thanks to this dehumanised piece of clockwork and mechanism, thanks to the “impersonality” of the workman, and the false economy of the “division of labour.” The object, which is culture, is lost sight of: modern scientific activity as a means thereto simply produces barbarism.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche (1888), Ecce Homo, A. Ludovici, trans., “Thoughts out of Season,” § 3.2.1
  • At this point, an urgent question arises: … Is it our duty to seek to become a thorough and complete human being, one quite sufficient unto himself; or, on the contrary, to be only a part of a whole, the organ of an organism? Briefly, is the Division of labor, at the same time that it is a law of nature, also a moral rule of human conduct; and, if it has this latter character, why and in what degree?
    • Émile Durkheim (1893) , The Division of labor in Society, G. Simpson, trans. (1933), p. 41
Nowadays, the phenomenon has developed so generally it is obvious to all. We need have no further illusions about the tendencies of modern industry; it advances steadily towards powerful machines, towards great concentrations of forces and capital, and consequently to the extreme Division of labor.
- Émile Durkheim, 1893
  • Nowadays, the phenomenon (of division of labor) has developed so generally it is obvious to all. We need have no further illusions about the tendencies of modern industry; it advances steadily towards powerful machines, towards great concentrations of forces and capital, and consequently to the extreme Division of labor. Occupations are infinitely separated and specialized, not only inside the factories, but each product is itself a specialty dependent upon others. Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill still hoped that agriculture, at least, would be an exception to the rule, and they saw it as the last resort of small-scale industry. Although one must be careful not to generalize unduly in such matters, nevertheless it is hard to deny today that the principal branches of the agricultural industry are steadily being drawn into the general movement. Finally, business itself is ingeniously following and reflecting in all its shadings the infinite diversity of industrial enterprises; and, while this evolution is realizing itself with unpremeditated spontaneity, the economists, examining its causes and appreciating its results, far from condemning or opposing it, uphold it as necessary. They see in it the supreme law of human societies and the condition of their progress.
  • Lately people are saying that the reason for the success of manufacturing is the Division of labor. We say "Division of labor," but this term is incorrect. In our society it is not labor that is divided, but human beings — these are divided into human particles, broken into small pieces, ground into dust: in a factory one man makes only one minute portion of an article, because that tiny fragment of reason which he retains is insufficient to make a complete pin or a complete nail, and is exhausted in the task of pointing the pin or heading the nail. It is true that it is good and desirable to make as many pins daily as possible, but if we realized the material with which we finish them, we would realize how unprofitable it all is. It is unprofitable because we polish them with the dust of the human soul.
It is this humiliating transformation of men into machines [caused by the “Division of labor”] that causes workers to dumbly, destructively, and vainly fight for a freedom whose essence they themselves do not understand. Their hatred of wealth and the ruling classes is not evoked by the pangs of hunger nor by the pinpricks of offended pride. … It is not that people do not have enough to eat, but that they do not get any satisfaction out of the work they do to earn their bread. Therefore, they regard money as the only means of achieving satisfaction. It is not that people suffer from the contempt of the upper classes, but that they cannot stand their own self-contempt based on their feeling that the work to which they are condemned denigrates and deforms them into something less than human.
  • John Ruskin (1819–1900), as cited in Tolstoy, Path of Life, M. Cote, trans. (2002), p. 79

20th century, first half[edit]

  • Cities are, first of all, seats of the highest economic division of labor. They produce thereby such extreme phenomena as in Paris the remunerative occupation of the quatorzième. They are persons who identify themselves by signs on their residences and who are ready at the dinner hour in correct attire, so that they can be quickly called upon if a dinner party should consist of thirteen persons. In the measure of its expansion, the city offers more and more the decisive conditions of the division of labor. It offers a circle which through its size can absorb a highly diverse variety of services.
  • Division of labor is a justification for sloth.
  • Early British economists held that the application of the principle of Division of labor was the basis of manufacture.... Charles Babbage, believed ... in [an] "Economy of Machinery and Manufacture." It appears, however, that another principle is the basic one in the rise of industry. It is the transference of skill. The transference of skill from the inventor or designer to the power-driven mechanism brought about the industrial revolution from handicraft to manufacture. It will be necessary to refer to this principle frequently throughout this report, in showing the meaning and position of management in industry.
No better single illustration of the application of this principle can be found than in the invention of the lathe slide rest by Henry Maudslay in 1794. This has been ranked as second only to the steam engine in its influence on machinery building, and thus on industrial development. The simple, easily controlled mechanical movements of the slide rest were substituted for the skilful human control of hand tools. So complete has been this transference of skill that today hand tooling is a vanished art in American machine shops.
  • The underlying principle of specialization is division of labor; but the term division of labor has become associated with the individual worker, whereas specialization is, in general, far reaching in its effects, and influences industrial enterprises of all kinds.
    • Dexter S. Kimball, Principles of industrial organization. New York : McGraw-Hill, 1913; 1919, p. 37
  • The term division of labor has, from long usage, become associated in the public mind with manual processes. But productive labor is, in general, both manual and mental and just as there may be division of manual labor so there may be division of mental labor or division of thought. Modern productive methods tend constantly to separate mental labor from manual labor and then to subdivide each into smaller and smaller parts. The subdivision of manual labor is greatly furthered, as has been seen, by the extended use of tools. Subdivision of mental labor on the other hand is hastened by an increase in the amount of knowledge and mental development necessary to successfully perform the work in hand. Thus the mental labor of designing machinery is performed largely apart from the actual production; and this mental labor has become very closely specialized as the scientific basis of engineering has grown. This process of subdivision is greatly hastened in both manual and mental operations by increased quantity since this, of itself, enables the manager to avail himself of the inherent advantages of division of labor already discussed.
    • Dexter S. Kimball, Principles of industrial organization. New York : McGraw-Hill, 1913; 1919
  • Efficiency in production often demands division of labor. But it is reduced to mechanical routine unless workers see the technical, intellectual, and social relationships involved in what they do, and engage in their work because of the motivation furnished by such perceptions...
    • John Dewey (1916) Democracy and Education, section seven: Implications of Human Association
  • Tolstoy seems to have felt somehow that social evolution was standing in his way. He did not like the division of labor. He hated all forms of commerce and trade. The State was an abomination in his eyes. He wanted it abolished and with it, indeed, all of modern society based upon machine industry. With Rousseau, he would go back to the primitive state.
  • In the time of Jesus almost everybody worked in small shops or on the land and then sold or bartered their own products in the towns. There were no vast industrial centers, no great factories, no steam power or electricity. Everyone knew his neighbor by name. There was no highly developed division of labor, nor were there great extremes of wealth and poverty. Such economic conditions are ideal—or at least as nearly ideal as they can ever be—for the spread of Christian communism. And so they are still in many parts of Russia.
  • The Methods of Industrial Management. — A committee of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers made an extensive canvass in the fall of 1912 to determine what were the new elements in modern management as well as what the committee designated as the regulative principles of industrial management. The committee confirmed Adam Smith's statement made in 1776 in his Wealth of Nations, in which he held that the application of the principle of division of labor was the basis of manufacture...
  • As yet no aesthetic standards have been introduced. Complexity is not an aesthetic criterion. It is a quality associated only with division and organisation of labour.
  • The price system is just one of those formations which man has learned to use (though he is still very far from having learned to make the best use of it) after he had stumbled upon it without understanding it. Through it not only a division of labour but also a coordinated utilization of resources based on an equally divided knowledge has become possible. The people who like to deride any suggestion that this may be so usually distort the argument by insinuating that it asserts that by some miracle just that sort of system has spontaneously grown up which is best suited to modern civilization. It is the other way round: man has been able to develop that division of labour on which our civilization is based because he happened to stumble upon a method which made it possible. Had he not done so, he might still have developed some other, altogether different, type of civilization, something like the "state" of the termite ants, or some other altogether unimaginable type
    • Friedrich August Hayek, "The use of knowledge in society." The American economic review 35.4 (1945): 519-530.
Division of labor is the basis of modern civilization. At the present time it is threatened with breakdown...
- George Marshall, 1947.
  • There is a phase of this matter which is both interesting and serious. The farmer has always produced the foodstuffs to exchange with the city dweller for the other necessities of life. This division of labor is the basis of modern civilization. At the present time it is threatened with breakdown. The town and city industries are not producing adequate goods to exchange with the food-producing farmer. Raw materials and fuel are in short supply. Machinery is lacking or worn out. The farmer or the peasant cannot find the goods for sale which he desires to purchase. So the sale of his farm produce for money which he cannot use seems to him an unprofitable transaction. He, therefore, has withdrawn many fields from crop cultivation and is using them for grazing. He feeds more grain to stock and finds for himself and his family an ample supply of food, however short he may be on clothing and the other ordinary gadgets of civilization. Meanwhile, people in the cities are short of food and fuel, and in some places approaching the starvation levels. So the governments are forced to use their foreign money and credits to procure these necessities abroad. This process exhausts funds which are urgently needed for reconstruction. Thus a very serious situation is rapidly developing which bodes no good for the world.
  • Answers determined by the social division of labor become truth as such.
    • Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (1947), p. 50: Describing the pragmatist view
  • No social co-operation under the division of labour is possible when some people or unions of people are granted the right to prevent by violence and the threat of violence other people from working. When enforced by violence, a strike in vital branches of production or a general strike are tantamount to a revolutionary destruction of society.
  • The more heavily the process of self-preservation is based on the bourgeois Division of labor, the more it enforces the self-alienation of individuals, who must mold themselves to the technical apparatus body and soul.
  • With the clean separation between science and poetry the Division of labor which science had helped to establish was extended to language. For science the word is first of all a sign; it is then distributed among the various arts as sound, image, or word proper, but its unity can never be restored by the addition of these arts, be synaesthesia or total art. As sign, language must resign itself to calculation and, to know nature, must renounce the claim to resemble it. As image it must resign itself to being a likeness and, to be entirely nature, must renounce the claim to know it.
  • Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The results of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital, the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society.
  • People do not cooperate under the division of labor because they love or should love one another. They cooperate because this best serves their own interests. Neither love nor charity nor any other sympathetic sentiments but rightly understood selfishness is what originally impelled man to adjust himself to the requirements of society, to respect the rights and freedoms of his fellow men and to substitute peaceful collaboration for enmity and conflict.
  • There should be some division of labor between us... The Soviet Union cannot... have the same influence [in Asia] as China is in a position to do... By the same token, China cannot have the same influence as the Soviet Union has in Europe. So, for the interests of the international revolution... you may take more responsibility in working in the East... and we will take more responsibility in the West... In a word, this is our unshirkable duty.

20th century, Second half[edit]

  • The division of distinctive social roles and tasks, based upon both inherited and socially acquired individual differences, is called social differentiation.
  • Social differentiation is a universal characteristic of human societies. Early human societies survived and became dominant among animal species because of their superior social organization — that is, their more elaborate division of labor and consequent close coordination of activities.
  • When profits are pursued by geographic interchange of goods, so that commerce for profit becomes the central mechanism of the system, we usually call it "commercial capitalism." In such a system goods are conveyed from ares where they are more common (and therefore cheaper) to areas where they are less common (and therefore less cheap). This process leads to regional specialization and to division of labor, both in agricultural production and in handicrafts.
  • The societal Division of labor obtains the dignity of an ontological condition. If truth presupposes freedom from toil, and if this freedom is, in the social reality, the prerogative of a minority, then the reality allows such a truth only in approximation and for a privileged group.
  • I believe in the virtues of professional division of labor, however, and I am troubled, therefore, when economists adopt the role and the tactics of the prophet or the politician, especially when there is any ground for suspicion that what is involved is false prophecy.
  • Laissez-faire capitalism, or anarchocapitalism, is simply the economic form of the libertarian ethic. Laissez-faire capitalism encompasses the notion that men should exchange goods and services, without regulation, solely on the basis of value for value. It recognizes charity and communal enterprises as voluntary versions of this same ethic. Such a system would be straight barter, except for the widely felt need for a division of labor in which men, voluntarily, accept value tokens such as cash and credit. Economically, this system is anarchy, and proudly so.
  • Marx followed the vision of a world society which presupposes and establishes forever the complete victory of the town over the country, of the mobile over the deeply rooted, of the spirit of the Occident over the spirit of the Orient; the members of the world society which is no longer a political society are free and equal, and are so in the last analysis because all specialization, all division of labor, has given way to the full development of everyone.
    • Leo Strauss, "Philosophy as Rigorous Science and Political Philosophy", Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 2, no. 1 (1971)
  • In Amazon societies... no division of labor based on sex seems to have existed... Although Amazon leaders existed and queens were elected, the societies seem to have been...ones in which any woman could aspire to and achieve full human expression.
The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing.
- Eduardo Galeano (1973)
  • The division of labor among nations is that some specialize in winning and others in losing.
    • Eduardo Galeano (1973), as cited in: Riley E. Dunlap (2002), Sociological Theory and the Environment, 183
  • This situation [alienation] can therefore [according to Durkheim] be remedied by providing the individual with a moral awareness of the social importance of his particular role in the division of labour. He is then no longer an alienated automaton. but is a useful part of an organic whole: ‘from that time, as special and uniform as his activity may be, it is that of an intelligent being, for it has direction, and he is aware of it.’ This is entirely consistent with Durkheim’s general account of the growth of the division of labour, and its relationship to human freedom. It is only through moral acceptance in his particular role in the division of labour that the individual is able to achieve a high degree of autonomy as a self-conscious being, and can escape both the tyranny of rigid moral conformity demanded in undifferentiated societies on the one hand and the tyranny of unrealisable desires on the other.
    Not the moral integration of the individual within a differentiated division of labour but the effective dissolution of the division of labour as an organising principle of human social intercourse, is the premise of Marx’s conception. Marx nowhere specifies in detail how this future society would be organised socially, but, at any rate,. this perspective differs decisively from that of Durkheim. The vision of a highly differentiated division of labour integrated upon the basis of moral norms of individual obligation and corporate solidarity. is quite at variance with Marx’s anticipation of the future form of society.
  • In the sixteenth century, Europe was like a bucking bronco. The attempt of some groups to establish a world-economy based on a particular division of labor, to create national states in the core areas as politico-economic guarantors of this system, and to get the workers to pay not only the profits but the costs of maintaining the system was not easy.
  • The post-Freudians … have fallen victim to the ravages of the intellectual division of labor.
  • The new attitude of the critic toward the artist has been rationalized for me by a leading European art historian who is also an influential critic of current art. It is based on a theory of division of labor in making art history. The historian, he contends, knows art history and, in fact, creates it; the artist knows only how to do things...
    • Harold Rosenberg Art on the Edge, (1975) p. 147, "Criticism and Its Premises" p. 249, "Thoughts in Off-Season"
  • The last of Smith’s regrettable failures is one for which he is overwhelmingly famous – the Division of labor. How can it be that the famous opening chapters of his book, and the pin factory he gave immortality, can be considered a failure? Are they not cited as often as any passages in all economics? Indeed, over the generations they are. The failure is different: almost no one used or now uses theory of Division of labor, for the excellent reason that there is scarcely such a theory. … there is no standard, operable theory to describe what Smith argued to be the mainspring of economic progress. Smith gave the Division of labor an immensely convincing presentation – it seems to me as persuasive a case for the power of specialization today as it appeared to Smith. Yet there is no evidence, so far as I know, of any serious advance in theory of the subject since his time, and specialization is not an integral part of the modern theory of production, which may well be an explanation for the fact that the modern theory of economies of scale is little more than a set of alternative possibilities.
    • George Stigler (1976). “The Successes and Failures of Professor Smith”. Journal of Political Economy, 84, 1199-1213
  • Organization design is conceived to be a decision process to bring about a coherence between the goals or purposes for which the organization exists, the patterns of division of labor and interunit coordination and the people who will do the work.
  • I've always doubted that the socialists had a leg to stand on intellectually. They have improved their argument somehow, but once you begin to understand that prices are an instrument of communication and guidance which embody more information than we directly have, the whole idea that you can bring about the same order based on the division of labor by simple direction falls to the ground...
  • Both the control of territory and the political domination of one state over another have profound consequences for international economic relations. However... market power or economic power has itself become a principal means by which states seek to organize and manipulate the international division of labor to their own advantage.
  • Slaving gave rise to a division of labor in which the business of capture, maintenance, and overland transport of slaves was in African hands, while Europeans took charge of transoceanic transport, the "seasoning" or breaking in of slaves, and their eventual distribution.
  • Where Adam Smith and David Ricardo had envisaged a growing worldwide division of labor, they had thought that each country would freely select the commodities it was most qualified to produce, and that each would exchange its optimal commodity for the optimal commodity of others. Thus in Ricardo's example, Britain would send Portugal its textiles, while Britons would consume Portuguese wines in turn. What his vision of free commodity exchange omits are the constraints that governed the selection of particular commodities, and the political and military sanctions used to ensure the continuation of quiet asymmetrical exchanges that benefited one party while diminishing the assets of another.
  • There probably has to be a worldview for practical men who must be strong enough to get their hands dirty in political practice without getting dirty themselves, and even if they do, who cares? And a second worldview for youths, simpletons, women, and sensitive souls, for whom “purity” is just the right thing. One could call it a division of labor among temperaments.
    • Peter Sloterdijk, Kritik der zynischen Vernunft [Critique of Cynical Reason] (1983); M. Eldred, trans. (1987); p. 44
  • You can’t treat values like workers, hiring and firing them at will and assigning each a place in an imposed division of labor. The taste for freedom and pleasure can’t be compartmentalized.
    • Bob Black, The Libertarian as Conservative. (1984)
  • International specialization and Division of labor requires institutions and organizations to safeguard property rights across international boundaries so that capital markets as well as other kinds of exchange can take place with credible commitment on the part of the players.
    • Douglass C. North (1990) Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance p. 121
  • Never before have people been so infantalized, made so dependant on the machine for everything; as the earth rapidly approaches its extinction due to technology, our souls are shrunk and flattened by its pervasive rule. Any sense of wholeness and freedom can only return by the undoing of the massive division of labour at the heart of technological progress. This is the liberatory project in all its depth.
    • John Zerzan, Future Primitive and Other Essays (1994)
  • The error in positivism is that it takes as its standard of truth the contingently given division of labor, that between the science and social praxis as well as that within science itself, and allows no theory that could reveal the division of labor to be itself derivative and mediated and thus strip it of its false authority.
    • Theodor Adorno, “Why still philosophy?” Critical Models (1998), p. 10.
  • We might better read the entire life cycle as a division of labor, with larvae as feeding and growing stages, and the adult as a short-lived reproductive machine. In this sense, we could well view the adult fly's day as the larva's clever and transient device for making a new generation of truly fundamental feeders.
    • Stephen Jay Gould, Leonardo's Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms (1998), Triumph of the Root-Heads, p. 356

21st century[edit]

  • We think of the division of labor as being outdated, but in fact it has reemerged. In the early ‘80s, a mother was 43 times more likely than the father to leave the workplace for family responsibilities; more recently, a mom is 135 times more likely to leave the workplace for family responsibilities.
  • A member of the human race who is completely incapable of understanding the higher productivity of labor performed under a division of labor based on private property is not properly speaking a person… but falls instead into the same moral category as an animal – of either the harmless sort (to be domesticated and employed as a producer or consumer good, or to be enjoyed as a “free good”) or the wild and dangerous one (to be fought as a pest). On the other hand, there are members of the human species who are capable of understanding the [value of the division of labor] but...who knowingly act wrongly… [B]esides having to be tamed or even physically defeated [they] must also be punished… to make them understand the nature of their wrongdoings and hopefully teach them a lesson for the future.
  • As a result of this continuous improvement of productivity through the division of labor and technical advancement, one hour's labor today is worth about 25 times more than it was in the mid-19th century [....] Growth and productivity alone are capable of raising real wages in the long run.
  • I conclude by listing several main points of this essay:
    1. Human capital is of great importance in the modern economy.
    2. Human capital has become of much greater significance during the past two decades.
    3. Human capital is crucial to the international division of labor...
    • Gary Becker (2002), "The Age of Human Capital", in Edward P. Lazear, Education in the Twenty-First Century (2002)
  • [A world-system is] a system that is a world and which can be, most often has been, located in an area less than the entire globe. World-systems analysis argues that the units of social reality within which we operate, whose rules constrain us, are for the most part such world-systems (other than the now extinct, small mini-systems that once existed on the earth). World-system analysis argues that there have been thus far only two varieties of world-systems: world-economies and world empires. A world-empire (examples, the Roman Empire, Han China) are large bureaucratic structures with a single political center and an axial division of labor, but multiple cultures. A world-economy is a large axial division of labor with multiple political centers and multiple cultures.
    • Immanuel Wallerstein (2004, p. 98), as cited in: Graham Scambler. Contemporary Theorists for Medical Sociology, 2012. p. 255
  • Surely just about everybody has faced a moral dilemma and secretly wished, "If only somebody — somebody I trusted — could just tell me what to do!" Wouldn't this be morally inauthentic? Aren't we responsible for making our own moral decisions? Yes, but the virtues of "do it yourself" moral reasoning have their limits, and if you decide, after conscientious consideration, that your moral decision is to delegate further moral decisions in your life to a trusted expert, then you have made your own moral decision. You have decided to take advantage of the division of labor that civilization makes possible and get the help of expert specialists.
  • A second, related assumption of modern progress-philosophy is that intellectual production functions in essentially the same way as economic production: the progress of both results from “teamwork,” from the practice of the Division of labor or specialization within a group. And just as the essential precondition of the economic Division of labor is exchange, so the precondition of intellectual specialization is the efficient exchange of knowledge—through publication.
    • Arthur Melzer (2007) “On the Pedagogical Motive for Esoteric Writing” The Journal of Politics, Volume 69, Issue 4, pp. 1015 - 1031
  • The United States has never actually wanted one true spy service, on the model of England’s MI6. Instead, it has tried to create a first-rate spy community. That community reflects the character of our culture: it’s a crazy-quilt of checks and balances, division of labor, specialization, decentralization, friendship with free nations, civilian control of the military, and a distrust of secrecy dating to the Salem witch trials.
    • Mark Riebling," Litany of Blunders (2007)," in: City Journal October 5, 2007.
  • The movement of people and ideas is ... more than useful; it is sacrosanct. It forms part of the process by which the whole human race becomes both one and diverse, and makes itself more godlike, by affirming in the individual as well as in the species, its preeminence over the particular social and cultural worlds that it builds and inhabits. Both the movement of people and the movement of ideas can unsettle and frighten us, driving us back into ourselves. They can also inspire us to reimagine and to remake our interests, our ideals, and even our identities, by beginning to detach them from the settings with which we habitually associate them. Each of them is therefore an invitation to open ourselves to the new, in a world in which every man and woman has a better chance to become the original that he imagines himself to be.
  • The unremitting division of labour resulted in admirable levels of productivity. The company’s success appeared to bear out the principles of efficiency laid down at the turn of the twentieth century by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who theorized that a society would grow wealthy to the extent that its members forfeited general knowledge in favour of fostering individual ability in narrowly constricted fields. In an ideal Paretan economy, jobs would be ever more finely subdivided to allow for the accumulation of complex skills, which would then be traded among workers. … But however great the economic advantages of segmenting the elements of an afternoon’s work into a range of forty-year-long careers, there was reason to wonder about the unintended side effects of doing so. In particular, one felt tempted to ask … how meaningful the lives might feel as a result.
    • Alain de Botton, describing a biscuit manufacturer in The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009), pp. 76-77
  • The lifeblood of our economy, indeed the whole world's economy, is based on money. Without a currency that can be trusted, the entire structure of economics, the division of labor itself, falls apart.
  • The love of wisdom in its wholeness requires exploration of the sources of the things we take for granted, including the thinking that has sorted out all the various disciplines, making demarcations between fields as well as envisioning what is to be done within them.
  • The proposition that markets drive economic efficiency is central to much of economics. Adam Smith illustrated that the “invisible hand” of the market drives efficient allocation of resources in a system of division of labor. Friedrich Hayek illustrated the central importance of the price system as an information processing mechanism more powerful than any centrally planned system could ever be. Kenneth Arrow and Gerard Debreu illustrated that complete and perfect markets deliver a Pareto-efficient equilibrium, in which no one person can be made better off without making someone else worse off. And the development of the efficient- market and rational- expectations hypotheses suggested that financial markets are in fact efficient, and that the conditions required for efficiency and for rational and stable equilibria apply even in contracts between the present and the future, which financial markets provide.
    • Adair Turner Economics after the crisis : objectives and means (2012) Ch. 2 : Financial Markets: Efficiency, Stability, and Income Distribution

See also[edit]

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