As an anthropologist, Graeber is less concerned with validating...statistic[s] and more interested in exploring why so many people believe this about their own jobs. In doing so, he helps the reader better understand not just the nature of one’s own job, but jobs in general ... Reading through his taxonomy, one engages with what I believe to be the central pleasure of the book, trying to figure out whether you or people you know have jobs that fit these categories ... Reading Graeber’s book made me appreciate how fortunate I am. I can’t claim to do the most important work in the world, but I can report finding great personal satisfaction in the work I do.
Graeber is not an economist; he is an anthropologist who has done fieldwork in highland Madagascar and cops to being an anarchist who wants to see governments and corporations have less power. Yet his argument cries out for stronger economic evidence. Especially since an economist would find a number of flaws in it ... That’s not to say that Graeber’s argument is not without merit — in my own unscientific research, I encountered a few friends who said that their jobs fit his description perfectly. And Graeber’s anthropological eye and skepticism about capitalism are useful in questioning some parts of the economy that the West has come to accept as normal ... If nothing else, this book asks readers whether there might be a better way to organize the world of work. That’s a question worth asking.
There might be something refreshing about the fact that capitalism has not yet gained full control over its means and ends, and that there are millions of people sitting around getting paid to do nothing all day. Graeber doesn’t buy it. On the contrary: He considers bullshit jobs to be a profound form of psychological violence, a scourge that’s fueling resentment, anomie, depression, and apathy ... Graeber insists that there’s no value in working for the sake of just working. That often gives the impression that anyone who does want to work for work’s sake must be a bit of a sucker and that the compulsion to work is a manifestation of false consciousness or, worse, stupidity. He thus glosses over the strongly felt benefits, be they professional, social, or psychological, that many people get from their jobs. If Graeber’s unscientific assertions about bullshit jobs feel vital, urgent, and intuitively true, his dismissals of work’s inherent value—not moral, but social—feel incomplete.
But despite a muddled sense of causes and effects, Graeber’s book offers us an engaging—albeit at the same time tremendously disheartening—portrait of labor in 21st-century capitalism ... In Bullshit Jobs, Graeber similarly employs anecdote in order to illustrate just how much insanity we take for granted. Liberally drawing from the respondents to his original essay, he recounts stories that read like Philip K. Dick at his least plausible. Some are sad, others infuriating, and many are both. A number verge on the absurd ... Despite Graeber’s focus on surface phenomena like hierarchy and envy, he is correct to conclude that the only thing keeping capitalism going is our refusal to stop it in its tracks through collective action.
As well as documenting personal misery, this book is a portrait of a society that has forgotten what it is for ... The problem with Bullshit Jobs is that the first two‑thirds is essentially an elaboration of his original, brilliant intervention. Graeber uses the hundreds of messages he received in response to his essay as source material, quoting testimonies at length. This puts the cart before the horse, and is also rather tiresome. I wanted to see the phenomenon traced back to its source ... Things pick up again in the final chapters, with the injection of salutary – and fascinating – lessons from history.
That use of 'tabloid readers' is revealing of a slightly condescending attitude that Graeber can’t quite suppress. Although his sympathies are with blue-collar workers, who often have 'shit jobs' (and, of course, may well read tabloid newspapers), he is often contemptuous of white-collar workers with their 'bullshit jobs' ... With its snarky tone and laboured arguments, I’m not sure this is the book to ignite a larger debate. Despite its length, it doesn’t develop a theory that’s notably more sophisticated than the Strike! essay. Too much time is spent on nailing down flip typologies ... But Graeber is clearly right when he notes that as individuals we crave something more than social acceptance–we also hanker after meaning. He is at his most interesting when he grapples with that age-old economic problem of 'value,' the idea related to skilled labour that many of us continue to think of as inherently meaningful.
While the sample size of workers who responded to his essay is small, he brings together good examples and insights on his thesis (negatives and positives) as well as solid historical resources ... The readable writing, solid documentation, and bibliography make this a good selection for libraries.
It’s a pretty cheerless view of the economy, but Graeber makes good points along the way, including the aside that the reason people hate unionized workers who do nonbullshit work—teaching elementary school, building cars—is precisely because they’re not stuck in bullshit jobs ... Overlong, but the book offers comfort to those who are performing the white-collar version of burger-flipping and hating every minute of it.
Like an update of economist Thorstein Veblen’s theory of a purposeless 'leisure class' as interpreted by Kafka and Dilbert, Graeber’s funny, incisive analysis dissects the absurd social protocols of looking busy when there’s nothing to do, and plumbs the depression and self-loathing that erupt when the psychological drive to be useful is thwarted. Less cogently, he elaborates a thesis that capitalism has a sadomasochistic, quasi-religious obsession with unpleasant labor as a 'sacred duty.' In his quest to be provocative, Graeber himself sometimes strays into BS territory, but his many subversive insights into alienating labor make for an enlightening book that every office drone will relate to.