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Tom Barker

The idea of ‘real work’ resonates strongly with many people. Real work is work that approximates a putative ‘true essence’ of work, is more authentic, and is therefore deemed more worthy or important than other forms of work. ‘False work’, by contrast, merely appears or purports to be work, lacking in the more essential qualities or characteristics of real work. However, no fixed definition of real work can be assumed, rather, it is a contested concept, with a variety of possible understandings and interpretations. This chapter briefly considers two different accounts of real work, namely: real work as private enterprise (work independent of the state) and real work as manufacturing (the production of physical goods). Both are popular, commonly held understandings of real work, and can be found expressed in a range of contemporary mainstream sources, from newspaper articles to more popular and polemical books on politics and economics. While these two accounts of what constitutes real work are radically different, at a deeper level they share an instrumental view of work, that is, the view that work is fundamentally an activity undertaken for the purposes of something beyond itself—in these two cases for the purposes of wealth creation. As the chapter concludes, we must be careful not to limit our understanding of work—and real work—to the purely instrumental level.