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Work, often known as labor, is a deliberate activity that people engage in to support themselves, others, or the needs and desires of a larger society. Work, on the other hand, may be defined as human activity that contributes to the creation of commodities and services in an economy (together with other elements of production).
Work is essential to all cultures, but it varies greatly within and across them, from harvesting natural resources by hand to running complicated technology that eliminate the need for many people to exert physical or mental effort. All but the simplest jobs need specialized knowledge, equipment, or tools, as well as additional resources (such as material for manufacturing goods). Throughout history, cultures and individuals have expressed a broad range of views regarding employment. Humanity has established a number of organizations for locating labor in society outside of any given activity or sector.
Aside from objective variations, one culture may structure or assign a different social rank to labor roles than another. Work has always been intertwined with other aspects of society and politics, such as power, class, tradition, rights, and privileges, throughout history. As a result, the division of labor is a hot issue in the social sciences, both as an abstract term and as a cultural trait.
Work may take many different forms, depending on the worker’s surroundings, equipment, talents, objectives, and institutions.
Because continuous effort is an essential component of many human activities, determining what counts as labor is frequently a question of context. One aspect that differentiates labor from other pursuits is specialization. A sport, for example, is a job for a professional athlete who makes a living from it, but a passion for someone who participates for leisure in their community. A paramedic providing medical care while on-duty and fully equipped, rather than delivering first aid as a bystander in an emergency, is an example of advanced planning or expectation. Self-care and fundamental routines such as personal grooming aren’t usually considered work.
While a subsequent gift, trade, or money may be used to confirm a productive action, this does not apply to volunteer labor or activities performed inside a family environment, such as parenting or housework. In certain circumstances, a community’s ability to distinguish between labor and other pursuits is just a question of common sense. However, an alternate viewpoint is that classifying any activity as labor is somewhat subjective, as Mark Twain described in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’s “whitewashed fence” incident.
Over time, people’s work patterns and attitudes toward labor have changed. Hunter-gatherer communities change the intensity of their “labor” in response to seasonal plant availability and prey animal movement patterns. Although agricultural growth led to more consistent labor habits, work nevertheless varied according to the seasons, with high continuous effort during harvests (for example) alternating with less focused periods such as winters. Protestantism and proto-capitalism emphasized the moral/personal benefits of hard effort in the early modern era.
Slavery’s cyclical re-invention stimulated more regular labor activity among the working class, while capitalist industrialisation increased the pressure on employees to keep up with the machines’ speed. Even in wealthier cultures, restrictions on working hours and worker ages followed, with worker requests for time off growing, but modern office work retains remnants of expectations of persistent, intense effort.