HOME
        TheInfoList






Peasants harvesting crops, by Flemish artist Pieter Brueghel, 17th century

Throughout human prehistory and history, wherever social class systems have developed, the social status of manual labourers has, more often than not, been low, as most physical tasks were done by peasants, serfs, slaves, indentured servants, wage slaves, or domestic servants. For example, legal scholar L. Ali Khan analyses how the Greeks, Hindus, English, and Americans all created sophisticated social structures to outsource manual labour to distinct classes, castes, ethnicities, or races.[1]

The phrase "hard labour" has even become a legal euphemism for Throughout human prehistory and history, wherever social class systems have developed, the social status of manual labourers has, more often than not, been low, as most physical tasks were done by peasants, serfs, slaves, indentured servants, wage slaves, or domestic servants. For example, legal scholar L. Ali Khan analyses how the Greeks, Hindus, English, and Americans all created sophisticated social structures to outsource manual labour to distinct classes, castes, ethnicities, or races.[1]

The phrase "hard labour" has even become a legal euphemism for penal labour, which is a custodial sentence during which the convict is not only confined but also put to manual work. Such work may be productive, as on a prison farm or in a prison kitchen, laundry, or library; may be completely unproductive, with the only purpose being the effect of the punishment on the convict; or somewhere in between (such as chain gang work, treadwheel work, or the proverbial "breaking rocks"—the latter two of which are almost certain to be economically unproductive today, although they sometimes served economic purpose in the preindustrial past).

There has always been a tendency among people of the higher gradations of social class to oversimplif

The phrase "hard labour" has even become a legal euphemism for penal labour, which is a custodial sentence during which the convict is not only confined but also put to manual work. Such work may be productive, as on a prison farm or in a prison kitchen, laundry, or library; may be completely unproductive, with the only purpose being the effect of the punishment on the convict; or somewhere in between (such as chain gang work, treadwheel work, or the proverbial "breaking rocks"—the latter two of which are almost certain to be economically unproductive today, although they sometimes served economic purpose in the preindustrial past).

There has always been a tendency among people of the higher gradations of social class to oversimplify the [partial] correlation between manual labour and lack of skill (or need for skill) into one of equivalence, leading to dubious exaggerations such as the notion that anyone who worked physically could be identified by that very fact as being unintelligent or unskilled, or that any task requiring physical work must (by that very fact) be simplistic and not worthy of analysis (or of being done by anyone with intelligence or social rank). Given the human cognitive tendency toward rationalisation, it is natural enough that such grey areas (partial correlations) have often been warped into absolutes (black and white thinking) by people seeking to justify and perpetuate their social advantage.

Throughout human existence, but most especially since the Age of Enlightenment, there have been logically complementary efforts by intelligent workers to counteract these flawed oversimplifications. For example, the American and French Revolutions rejected notions of inherited social status (aristocracy, nobility, monarchy), and the labour movements of the 19th and 20th centuries led to the formation of trade unions who enjoyed substantial collective bargaining power for a time. Such counteractive efforts have been all the more difficult because not all social status differences and wealth differences are unfair; meritocracy is a part of real life, just as rationalisation and unfairness are.

Social systems of every ideological persuasion, from Marxism to syndicalism to the American Dream, have attempted to achieve a successfully functioning classless society in which honest, productive manual labourers can have every bit of social status and power that honest, productive managers can have. Humans have not yet succeeded in instantiating any such utopia, but some social systems have been designed that go far enough toward the goal that hope yet remains for further improvement.

At its highest extreme, the rationalised distortion by economic elites produces cultures of slavery and complete racial subordination, such as slavery in ancient Greece and Rome; slavery in the United States; or slavery under Nazism (which was defeated in 1945). Concepts such as the Three-fifths compromise and the Untermensch defined slaves as less than human.

In the middle of the spectrum, such distortion may produce systems of fairly rigid class stratification, usually rationalised with fairly strong cultural norms of biologically inherited social inequality, such as feudalism; traditional forms of aristocracy and monarchy; colonialism; and caste systems (e.g., Apartheid, separate but equal/Jim Crow, Indian caste). One interesting historical trend that is true of all of the systems above is that they began crumbling in the 20th century and have continued crumbling since. Today's forms of them are mostly greatly weakened compared to past generations' versions.

At the lowest extreme, such distortion produces subtler forms of racism and de facto (but not de jure) inequality of opportunity. The more plausible the deniability, the easier the rationalisation and perpetuation. For example, as inequality of opportunity and racism grow smaller and subtler, their appearance may converge toward that of meritocracy, to the point that valid instances of each can be found extensively intermingled. At such areas of the spectrum, it becomes ever harder to justify efforts that use de jure methods to fight de facto imbalances (such as affirmative action), because valid instances can be highlighted by all sides. On one side, the cry is ongoing oppression (ignored or denied) from above; on the other side, the cry is reverse discrimination; ample valid evidence exists for both cases, and the problem of its anecdotal nature leaves no clear policy advantage to either side.

Recognizing the potential for skillcultural norms of biologically inherited social inequality, such as feudalism; traditional forms of aristocracy and monarchy; colonialism; and caste systems (e.g., Apartheid, separate but equal/Jim Crow, Indian caste). One interesting historical trend that is true of all of the systems above is that they began crumbling in the 20th century and have continued crumbling since. Today's forms of them are mostly greatly weakened compared to past generations' versions.

At the lowest extreme, such distortion produces subtler forms of racism and de facto (but not de jure) inequality of opportunity. The more plausible the deniability, the easier the rationalisation and perpetuation. For example, as inequality of opportunity and racism grow smaller and subtler, their appearance may converge toward that of meritocracy, to the point that valid instances of each can be found extensively intermingled. At such areas of the spectrum, it becomes ever harder to justify efforts that use de jure methods to fight de facto imbalances (such as affirmative action), because valid instances can be highlighted by all sides. On one side, the cry is ongoing oppression (ignored or denied) from above; on the other side, the cry is reverse discrimination; ample valid evidence exists for both cases, and the problem of its anecdotal nature leaves no clear policy advantage to either side.

Although manual labor is often stigmatized as lacking specific skills or intelligence, there are a variety of cognitive functions that it can require:

  • Contextual application: manual laborers must know procedures and be able to implement them while also being flexible to work within specific parameters. For example, servers must not only know all the set procedures for taking orders and carrying food, but they must also be able to react and adapt to their changing environments, i

    A willingness to recognise that manual labour can involve skill and intelligence can take a variety of forms, depending on how it handles multifaceted questions of dignity and (in)equality.

    • In its healthier forms, it recognises the dignity and intelligence of blue-collar workers (that is, that[4] those workers as a group have just as much potential for dignity and intelligence, despite the fact that any individual workers may or may not display such traits), and it recognises their civil (and civic) equality with white-collar workers. Yet it simultaneously leaves room in society for meritocracy, allowing both upward and downward social mobility (as a sustainable meritocracy requires).
      • An example of such systems is provided by well-run instances of professional sports teams, because there is a perennial meritocratic turnover of players, coaches, and staff, both within the sport and as input and output through its boundaries, whereby all participants have dignity even though all of the required talents may not exist in each individual. (For example, the talents of the physical therapists, statisticians, elderly coaches, and young adult players are not equal, but they are complementary from a systems engineering perspective.)
    • In its more pathological forms, it may only admit that there can be a science of manual labour, but not acknowledge or allow adequate social mobility (both upward and downward) between the blue-collar and white-collar classes. On the other hand, and equally pathologically, it may willfully deny the natural differences between individuals, allowing no hope for meritocratic justice, which is not only dispiriting to talented and hard-working people, but also highly injurious to macroeconomic performance.
      • An example of the first pathology is that the earliest forms of applying science to the practical processes of industry and commerce fell victim to an incomplete understanding, as exemplified by Frederick Winslow Taylor's version of the "science of shoveling".[5] Taylor correctly recognised that the physical (athletic) talents for shoveling (on one hand) and the mental talents for analyzing and synthesizing best shoveling techniques and workflows (on the other) often would not coexist in the same person. Some people would have only the first; others, only the second. Therefore, (speaking metaphorically), players usually should not be their own coaches. Unfortunately, Taylor stepped from that valid realisation to envisioning a sys

        Formal learning scenarios, such as vocational classrooms, apprenticeships and academic studies, supply a theoretical approach to building skillsets. Learners acquire a systematic and procedural view of tasks, based on the specific parameters and needs of a job's intended outcome. The parameters are defined by the purpose of the job and the tools used to achieve it. Hair styling, for example, requires learners to gain competence in the methods of shaping, cutting, washing, dying, combing, and various other active manual skills, the proficiency of which will determine the final product. In such situations, the learner is guided and directed by educators in their technique and form, and learn to interpret a tool’s use in meeting the requirements of a task or project based on the expectation of the result.

        Informal learning and training

        Informal learning can be summarized as any activity which concerns the pursuit of understanding, knowledge, or skill that occurs without an imposed curriculum and explicit assessment. It typically manifests itself as practical engagement in the pursuit of knowledge. There are several ways which informal learning is conducted, that range from self-directed learning, observational learning, where there is intention to seek specific information outside of formal environments, to the coincidental learning that comes out of experiences. Informal training differs from informal training in that it focuses on the acquisition of a skill, understanding, or job-specific knowledge. The cognitive skills acquired outside of formal learning environment also help to define the mastery of what are considered "blue collar" jobs. The understanding of technique and method taken from formal training is expanded on in developing contextual application, situational awareness, and innovation based skills. Informal learning provides workers with opportunities of cognitive development unique to their field's context.That knowledge of context, derived from past experiences in comparable situations, dictates the use of one technique or plan over another. Plumbing, as an example, requires knowledge of piping and the mechanics of water systems, but also relies on details such as house age, the materials from which the specific plumbing system is made, how those materials react given different external changes or alterations, and a comprehension of hypothetical conditions and the resulting behavior of the problem and other related components when said conditions are brought into effect.[3] These skills and understandings are inherent in both learning processes. As a whole, this type of knowledge is more learner-centered and situational in response to the interests or needed application of the skill to a particular workforce.

        Relationship to mechanisation and automation

        Mechanisation and automation strive to reduce the amount of manual labour required for production. The motives for this reduction of effort may be to remove drudgery from people's lives; to lower the unit cost of production; or, as mechanisation evolves into automation, to bring greater flexibility (easier redesign, lower lead time) to production. Mechanisation occurred first in tasks that required either little dexterity or at least a narrow repertoire of dextrous movements, such as providing motive force or tractive force (locomotives; traction engines; marine steam engines; early cars, trucks, and tractors); digging, loading, and unloading bulk materials (steam shovels, early loaders); or weaving uncomplicated cloth (early looms). For example, Henry Ford described his efforts to mechanise agricultural tasks such as tillage as relieving drudgery by transferring physical burdens from human and animal bodies to iron and steel machinery.[7] Informal learning can be summarized as any activity which concerns the pursuit of understanding, knowledge, or skill that occurs without an imposed curriculum and explicit assessment. It typically manifests itself as practical engagement in the pursuit of knowledge. There are several ways which informal learning is conducted, that range from self-directed learning, observational learning, where there is intention to seek specific information outside of formal environments, to the coincidental learning that comes out of experiences. Informal training differs from informal training in that it focuses on the acquisition of a skill, understanding, or job-specific knowledge. The cognitive skills acquired outside of formal learning environment also help to define the mastery of what are considered "blue collar" jobs. The understanding of technique and method taken from formal training is expanded on in developing contextual application, situational awareness, and innovation based skills. Informal learning provides workers with opportunities of cognitive development unique to their field's context.That knowledge of context, derived from past experiences in comparable situations, dictates the use of one technique or plan over another. Plumbing, as an example, requires knowledge of piping and the mechanics of water systems, but also relies on details such as house age, the materials from which the specific plumbing system is made, how those materials react given different external changes or alterations, and a comprehension of hypothetical conditions and the resulting behavior of the problem and other related components when said conditions are brought into effect.[3] These skills and understandings are inherent in both learning processes. As a whole, this type of knowledge is more learner-centered and situational in response to the interests or needed application of the skill to a particular workforce.

        Relationship to mechanisation and automation