135 Int'l Lab. Rev. 615 (1996)
Work and Usefulness to the World

handle is hein.journals/intlr135 and id is 629 raw text is: International Labour Review, Vol. 135 (1996), No. 6

Work and usefulness to the world
Robert CASTEL *
F or reasons that will be explained below, analysis of the transformations of
work from a historical perspective shows that reference to law is
absolutely essential to form a clear picture of the place that work has
occupied and occupies today in society. With the caution readers are entitled
to expect of a non-specialist author, this article will attempt to justify the
importance of law in the sense that nothing seems more urgent from the
sociological point of view than the need to mobilize legal thinking to
confront the current deterioration in conditions of employment.
Work from a position of total dependence
Work and usefulness to the world: this title was inspired by a
historian's record of the indictment of a vagrant by the court of the French
town of Le ChAtelet in the fifteenth century. The poor soul was pronounced
useless to the world, and therefore fit to die by hanging like a common
thief.' Vagrants were useless to the world because they did not work and
lived off society's reserves, which they had not contributed to producing. To
quote another historical source, they were the most terrible scourge ... of
voracious insects that infect and desolate the countryside, devouring daily
the subsistence of the farmers.2 Vagrants have indeed always paid dearly for
this uselessness, enduring various but consistently cruel forms of repression
for centuries.
This leads to consideration of the relationship between work and a
recognized position in society. To what extent is recognized membership of
society - nowadays very loosely called social citizenship - based solely
upon work?
* Research director at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (Ecole des
hautes 6tudes en sciences sociales), Paris.
IBronislav Geremek: Les marginaux parisiens aux XIVe et XVe sicles, Paris,
Flammarion, 1976, p. 310.
2 J. F. Le Trosne: Mgmoire sur les vagabonds et les mendiants, Soissons, 1764, p. 4.

Copyright 0 International Labour Organization 1996

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