Duane Fontaine

GLS/SAR PhD Candidate

Education

  • CGA designation, 1998
  • MA – Liberal Studies, SFU, 2005

Research Description

Many labour scholars and economists are warning us that the institution of work is about to undergo a paradigmatic and permanent shift. In a quickly evolving environment of robotization, artificial intelligence, ‘big data’ and machine learning, questions relating to the future of work – what jobs will be demanded, how many jobs will be available and in what vocations – are all hotly debated. Prognostications and solutions range from standard neoliberal dogma, which sees our salvation in the growth arising from innovation, entrepreneurship and deregulation, to progressive calls for federal job guarantees, basic income, or traditional Keynesian stimulus spending. These solutions, however, all rely on the continued primacy of work and the work ethic. What is lost in these discussions is the radical and utopian vision that sees this period of human history as one that is uniquely situated to bring about the end of work.

Work has not always been held in such high esteem. In fact, it has often been viewed in diametrical terms. On the one hand, while necessary for personal survival, work has been seen as an impingement of one’s autonomy, freedom and creativity; an alienating force. On the other hand, work has been viewed as the primary source of meaning for the individual. This is due to its ability to link the worker to civil society through the intersubjective relationships that develop by necessity. Indeed, both Hegel and Marx viewed labour as the source of meaning and agency for the individual. The latter view is still very much dominant today and is in keeping with western civilization’s protestant work ethic and its now hegemonic reach to the rest of the globe. Most liberal-progressives still view work in this way with their calls for federal job guarantees or stimulus spending, and more radical progressives still place the worker as the source of all enlightenment and political agency.

Despite the near universal valorization of work, we may have now bypassed the window where political change can be expected from the working class. The worker today is left in a state of decreased power and agency. Union membership continues to fall. Precarious work in the form of temporary contracts, unpaid internship, and chronic unemployment is on the rise. Stagnating wages exacerbate already rampant inequality. The jobs of the future, the few that might exist, will require levels of education and inherited wealth that are open only to a small elite.

My thesis is that a reliance on the old capitalist model of work will be insufficient to ward off the dystopian futures we have set in motion. I will focus instead on the meaning-making, freedom-enhancing potential of a transition away from work. I will accomplish this, first, by drawing upon the work of Smith, Hegel, Marx and Weber to outline how we arrived at our current views of work. Next, I will examine the dialectical struggle between meaning and freedom and its possible resolution in a future of no work. In doing so, I will look first to the pre-modern sources of meaning such as the individual citizen’s relationship to the polis or civitas, and the identity that emerged from that relationship. I will also examine the individual and political sources of eudaimonia and how those too might contribute to meaning. I will also examine modern definitions of freedom to determine what freedoms and whose freedoms are worth pursuing.

A future of no work is admittedly utopian. However, it has a long history rooted in rational thought and progressive ideals. It is not an impossible future; either from a technical or sociological perspective. It is, however, a problem of political economy and political will. This too will be a point of conceptual investigation for my thesis: the political possibilities for a future of no work and the transitional strategies, such as basic income, that might be successfully deployed in bringing about this vision.

Publications

  • Fontaine, Duane and Mark Roseland. "Sustainable Community Development and the Green Economy: Ensuring a Strong Sustainability Approach". The Routledge Handbook of Community Development. Edited by Rhonda Phillips, Sue Kenny &  Brian McGrath. Taylor & Francis Group, 2017. (expected)

Academic Talks, Panels & Presentations

  • "Plan Oder Markt: The Battle of Ideas Between Austro-Marxism and Neoliberalism in Vienna". Panel Member. Simon Fraser University, October, 2016

Community Presentations

  • ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ – Reason and Passion and their Discontents in Beethoven and Tolstoy - Shadbolt GLS Big Idea Seminar Series, Spring 2016
  • Feeling Alienated? What Marx Can Still Teach Us - Shadbolt GLS Big Idea Seminar Series, Winter 2016
  • Flourishing:  Ancient and Modern Approches - Shadbolt GLS Big Idea Seminar Series, Fall 2015
  • Darwin's Lasting Impact - Shadbolt GLS Big Idea Seminar Series, Fall 2015