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Work or labor is intentional activity people perform to support themselves, others, or the needs and wants of a wider community.[1] Alternatively, work can be viewed as the human activity that contributes (along with other factors of production) towards the goods and services within an economy.[2]

Work is fundamental to all societies, but can vary widely within and between them, from gathering in natural resources by hand, to operating complex technologies that substitute for physical or even mental effort by many human beings. All but the simplest tasks also require specific skills, equipment or tools, and other resources (such as material for manufacturing goods).[citation needed] Cultures and individuals across history have expressed a wide range of attitudes towards work. Outside of any specific process or industry, humanity has developed a variety of institutions for situating work in society.

Besides objective differences, one culture may organize or attach social status to work roles differently from another. Throughout history, work has been intimately connected with other aspects of society and politics, such as power, class, tradition, rights, and privileges.[citation needed] Accordingly, the division of labor is a prominent topic across the social sciences, as both an abstract concept and a characteristic of individual cultures.[3]

Description

Three women wearing heavy clothing and long bonnets, carrying long hammers, standing around a pile of rocks
Bal maidens with traditional tools and protective clothing spalling ore, 1858

Work can take many different forms, as various as the environments, tools, skills, goals, and institutions around a worker.

Because sustained effort is a necessary part of many human activities, what qualifies as work is often a matter of context. Specialization is one common feature that distinguishes work from other activities. For example, a sport is a job for a professional athlete who earns their livelihood from it, but a hobby to someone playing for fun in their community. An element of advance planning or expectation is also common, such as when a paramedic provides medical care while on-duty and fully equipped, rather than performing first aid off-duty as a bystander to an emergency. Self-care and basic habits like personal grooming are also not typically considered work either.[citation needed]

While a later gift, trade, or payment may retroactively affirm an activity as productive, this can exclude work like volunteering or what remains within a family, like parenting or housekeeping. In some cases, the distinction between work and other activities is simply a matter of common sense within a community. However, an alternative view is that labeling any activity as work is somewhat subjective, such as Mark Twain expressed in the "whitewashed fence" scene of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.[citation needed]

Women carpenters working at the Tarrant Hut Workshops, 3 miles from Calais, 26 June, 1918
A thatcher at work

Kinds of work

There are several ways to categorize and compare different kinds of work. In economics, one popular approach is the three-sector model or variations of it. In this view, an economy can be separated into three broad categories:

  • Primary sector, which extracts food, raw materials, and other resources from the environment
  • Secondary sector, which manufactures physical products, refines materials, and provides utilities
  • <

    Work is fundamental to all societies, but can vary widely within and between them, from gathering in natural resources by hand, to operating complex technologies that substitute for physical or even mental effort by many human beings. All but the simplest tasks also require specific skills, equipment or tools, and other resources (such as material for manufacturing goods).[citation needed] Cultures and individuals across history have expressed a wide range of attitudes towards work. Outside of any specific process or industry, humanity has developed a variety of institutions for situating work in society.

    Besides objective differences, one culture may organize or attach social status to work roles differently from another. Throughout history, work has been intimately connected with other aspects of society and politics, such as power, class, tradition, rights, and privileges.[citation needed] Accordingly, the division of labor is a prominent topic across the social sciences, as both an abstract concept and a characteristic of individual cultures.[3]

    Work can take many different forms, as various as the environments, tools, skills, goals, and institutions around a worker.

    Because sustained effort is a necessary part of many human activities, what qualifies as work is often a matter of context. Specialization is one common feature that distinguishes work from other activities. For example, a sport is a job for a professional athlete who earns their livelihood from it, but a hobby to someone playing for fun in their community. An element of advance planning or expectation is also common, such as when a paramedic provides medical care while on-duty and fully equipped, rather than performing first aid off-duty as a bystander to an emergency. Self-care and basic habits like personal grooming are also not typically considered work either.[citation needed]

    While a later gift, trade, or payment may retroactively affirm an activity as productive, this can exclude work like volunteering or what remains within a family, like parenting or housekeeping. In some cases, the distinction between work and other activities is simply a matter of common sense within a community. However, an alternative view is that labeling any activity as work is somewhat subjective, such as Mark Twain expressed in the "whitewashed fence" scene of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.[citation needed]

    sport is a job for a professional athlete who earns their livelihood from it, but a hobby to someone playing for fun in their community. An element of advance planning or expectation is also common, such as when a paramedic provides medical care while on-duty and fully equipped, rather than performing first aid off-duty as a bystander to an emergency. Self-care and basic habits like personal grooming are also not typically considered work either.[citation needed]

    While a later gift, trade, or payment may retroactively affirm an activity as productive, this can exclude work like volunteering or what remains within a family, like parenting or housekeeping. In some cases, the distinction between work and other activities is simply a matter of common sense within a community. However, an alternative view is that labeling any activity as work is somewhat subjective, such as Mark Twain expressed in the "whitewashed fence" scene of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.[citation needed]

    There are several ways to categorize and compare different kinds of work. In economics, one popular approach is the three-sector model or variations of it. In this view, an economy can be separated into three broad categories:

    In complex economies with high specialization, these categories are further subdivided into industries that produce a focused subset of products or services. Some economists also propose additional sectors such as a "knowledge-based" quaternary sector, but this division is neither standardized nor universally accepted.[citation needed]

    Another common way of contrasting work roles is ranking them according to a criterion, such as the amount of skill, experience, or seniority associated with a role. The progression from apprentice through journeyman to master craftsman in the skilled trades is one example with a long history and analogues in many cultures.

    Societies also commonly rank different work roles by perceived status, but this is more subjective and goes beyond clear progressions within a single industry. Some industries may be seen as more prestigious than others overall, even if they include roles with similar functions. At the same time, a wide swathe of roles across all industries may be afforde

    In complex economies with high specialization, these categories are further subdivided into industries that produce a focused subset of products or services. Some economists also propose additional sectors such as a "knowledge-based" quaternary sector, but this division is neither standardized nor universally accepted.[citation needed]

    Another common way of contrasting work roles is ranking them according to a criterion, such as the amount of skill, experience, or seniority associated with a role. The progression from apprentice through journeyman to master craftsman in the skilled trades is one example with a long history and analogues in many cultures.

    Societies also commonly rank differ

    Another common way of contrasting work roles is ranking them according to a criterion, such as the amount of skill, experience, or seniority associated with a role. The progression from apprentice through journeyman to master craftsman in the skilled trades is one example with a long history and analogues in many cultures.

    Societies also commonly rank different work roles by perceived status, but this is more subjective and goes beyond clear progressions within a single industry. Some industries may be seen as more prestigious than others overall, even if they include roles with similar functions. At the same time, a wide swathe of roles across all industries may be afforded more status (e.g. managerial roles) or less (like manual labor) based on characteristics such as a job being low-paid or dirty, dangerous and demeaning.

    Other social dynamics, like how labor is compensated, can even exclude meaningful tasks from a society's conception of work. For example, in modern market-economies where wage labor or piece work predominates, unpaid work may be omitted from economic analysis or even cultural ideas of what qualifies as work.[citation needed]

    At a political level, different roles can fall under separate institutions where workers have qualitatively different power or rights. In the extreme, the least powerful members of society may be stigmatized (as in untouchability) or even violently forced (via slavery) into performing the least desirable work. Complementary to this, elites may have exclusive access to the most prestigious work, largely symbolic sinecures, or even a "life of leisure."

    Work cannot be done in a vacuum and individual workers require several things, like sufficient health and resources, to succeed at even the simplest tasks.

    PhysiologyAs living beings, humans require a baseline of good health, nutrition, rest, and other physical needs in able to reliably exert themselves. This is particularly true of physical labor that places direct demands on the body, but even largely mental work can cause stress from problems like long hours, excessive demands, or a hostile workplace.

    Particularly intense forms of manual labor often lead workers to develop physical strength necessary for their job. However, this activity does not necessarily improve a worker's overall physical fitness like exercise, due to problems like overwork or a small set of repetitive motions.[4] In these physical jobs, maintaining good posture or movements with proper technique is also a crucial skill for avoiding injury. Ironically, white-collar workers who are sedentary throughout the workday may also suffer from long-term health problems due to a lack of physical activity.

    Training

    Learning the necessary skills for work is often a complex process in its own right, requiring intentional training. In traditional societies, know-how for different tasks can be passed to each new generation through oral tradition and working under adult guidance. For work that is more specialized and technically complex, however, a more formal system of education is usually necessary. A complete curr

    Particularly intense forms of manual labor often lead workers to develop physical strength necessary for their job. However, this activity does not necessarily improve a worker's overall physical fitness like exercise, due to problems like overwork or a small set of repetitive motions.[4] In these physical jobs, maintaining good posture or movements with proper technique is also a crucial skill for avoiding injury. Ironically, white-collar workers who are sedentary throughout the workday may also suffer from long-term health problems due to a lack of physical activity.

    Learning the necessary skills for work is often a complex process in its own right, requiring intentional training. In traditional societies, know-how for different tasks can be passed to each new generation through oral tradition and working under adult guidance. For work that is more specialized and technically complex, however, a more formal system of education is usually necessary. A complete curriculum ensures that a worker in training has some exposure to all major aspects of their specialty, in both theory and practice.

    Equipment and technology