What is Anticareerism?

Unjobbing and anticareerism are neologisms. I use them more or less interchangeably to describe a field of study of my own design: a world beyond “earning a living”. (It is my custom to always put “earning a living” in quotes to emphasize its injustice and to encourage critical thinking about it.)

My background is in academia, but I much prefer autodidactic pursuits; I’m one of a handful of independent scholars in the “field” of unjobbing or anticareerism. When people ask me what I do for a living, I sometimes answer with an oxymoron: “I’m a professional anticareerist.” (“Freelance writer” works in other cases.)

During my adolescence – while I was working a job I hated at a fast food restaurant, and wishing I could spend that time writing instead – I spent a great deal of time wondering how it came to be that everyone was expected to spend the bulk of their waking hours doing wage labor to survive, and why so few people seemed to question this dismal state of affairs. Little did I know how deep I’d have to dig and how long I’d have to study to even begin to answer the questions that occupied my rebellious youthful mind. I did not learn about land enclosures until I was in my 40s, for example, and even then it was only because I spent a great deal of time ferreting out obscure reading material.

Later on, after I completed baccalaureate degrees in psychology and philosophy, I applied to graduate school in philosophy, hoping to embark upon some sort of interdisciplinary study at the intersection of feminist philosophy, cognitive psychology, leisure studies, and sociology of labor. I did not find a school, program, or mentor anywhere in the US that would permit me to study what I wanted from an anticareerist perspective. Having no alternative, I decided to go it alone.

Unjobbing is taken from Michael Fogler’s 1996 book Unjobbing: The Adult Liberation Handbook; anticareerist is taken from basic income writer Kate McFarland and used for this project with her permission. (Kate and I are working on a collaborative article on unconditional basic income from an anticareerist perspective. In keeping with our philosophy of work, we’re taking a leisurely approach.)

Asked about her take on anticareerism, Kate says:

“I am not opposed to work or even jobs; however, a fixed occupation is no part of my self-identity, the level of my salary is no part of my self-worth, and progression along a path of professional advancement plays no role in structuring my life course. I believe that it is necessary to maintain a fluid, open-ended, and adaptive approach to work, education, and other opportunities for self-development–formal or informal, paid or unpaid–not because of the changing labor market or the like, but because of my own ever-evolving interests, priorities, and goals; as a human being, I am too complex to fully attain a ‘life well lived’ within the confines and strictures of a traditional career path.”

“The anticareerist grimaces at the job culture pervasive in contemporary society, yet the anticareerist, as such, needn’t be opposed to jobs. Indeed, the anticareerist might happily decide to take a job as a way to learn a new skill out of personal interest, gain social connections, contribute to a favorite non-profit organization or small local business, make money (recognizing that, in present society, money is freedom), or simply get out of the house–or any number of reasons. What the anticareerist would not do, however, is take a job as a means of professional advancement, nor would she conceptualize any job she happens to hold as a stepping-stone to higher paid or more prestigious jobs along a career trajectory.

“Of course, the anticareerist might well prefer to find her own personal success and sense of accomplishment outside of paid employment. She might then complain that she is forced to take an unwanted job merely to a make a living. What the anticareerist would not do, however, is complain about a so-called ‘dead-end job’ as that term is typically meant–for she does not take the value of a job to depend on its potential role in advancement along a career path.”

My own interests in what I call unjobbing or anticareerism, as a field of inquiry, have led me to pursue interrelated topics such as:

  • dismantling the Protestant work ethic
  • critiquing careerism
  • unlearning the beliefs and behaviors through which the work ethic is internalized
    (e.g., shame about ‘laziness,’ blaming poor people for their own plight)
  • critiquing compulsory wage labor, a.k.a. wage slavery
  • developing a leisure ethic
  • critiquing productivism, the idea that human value should be judged by economic productivity
  • countering get-a-job nonsense and lazy-bums rhetoric
  • supporting the feminist movement to make emotional labor more visible and reciprocal
  • properly valuing care work, housekeeping, and other unpaid work
  • supporting the unconditional basic income and guaranteed livable income movements from an anticareerist perspective
  • encouraging leisure – for its own sake, and as a form of resistance to productivism
  • decolonizing time
  • exploring gift culture
  • philosophical inquiry into the nature and value of “doing nothing”
  • nurturing ancestral connections to land
  • investigating the history of land enclosures that forced people into wage labor for survival
  • preparing for a future of de-centered employment
  • creating ecologically and spiritually inspired alternatives to conventional employment
  • building a culture of leisure that includes women and marginalized people

This list is incomplete, and may be revised. It’s taken me twenty years of voracious reading and study to define this independent field of inquiry sufficiently enough to come up with this list, however, so it’s a good place to start!

See also my 2010 essay “What Is Radical Unjobbing?” for some of my earlier thoughts.

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