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Advances in production systems and technology, particularly around automation and robotics, have been accompanied in recent years by a resurgence of debate about the future of work. Many contemporary accounts inhabit a utopian space where radical change is desired and envisioned. They point to profound, possibly revolutionary change in the nature of work – perhaps the end of work. They place work at the centre of social life as presently known, and in so doing tend to offer up a critique of capitalist society in toto. During the twentieth century, Western economies grappled with the issue of automation, at the same time finding themselves oscillating between consumer-fuelled expansion and economic crisis. This produced an intellectual engagement with automation and post-work which has much in common with that of today’s ‘postindustrial utopians’. Even stretching back into antiquity, utopian thinkers imagined a world without toil, and so the notion of ‘post-work’, or the ‘end of work’ exists in the context of a long and distinctive intellectual heritage. This chapter presents an analysis of this intellectual heritage and seeks to illustrate continuity and disjuncture in the dynamics of what could be termed ‘post-work imaginaries’.
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