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Christine Ax: "We need work that makes us happy"

Christine Ax: "We need work that makes us happy"
Photo: © Nurith Wagner-Strauss

Christine Ax is a philosopher and economist. Since the 1990s she has been researching forms of creative work, sustainable management and local economies. Ten years ago her book "Die Könnensgesellschaft. Mit guter Arbeit aus der Krise" was published. We want to know: What makes up good work, what will it look like in the future, and what can the creative industries do about it?

 

INTERVIEW JENS THOMAS

 

CCB Magazine: Ms Ax, your book "Die Könnensgesellschaft. Mit guter Arbeit aus der Krise" is almost ten years old. It's an optimistic draft of how self-determined and creative work leads out of the crisis. Are you an optimist, Ms. Ax?

Christine Ax:I would say a functional optimist. But yes: I believe in good work and that it's good for people and society.

CCB Magazine:What is good work for you?

Christine Ax:Good work is the one that makes people happy and creates added value for others. For good work, the reward also lies in the work itself. It's about an intrinsic motivation - one that comes from within. Good work has to do with the experience of ability. But knowledge and ability are not the same thing.

CCB Magazine:What does that mean?

Christine Ax:Skill has to do with knowledge, but knowledge alone is not enough. Skills are always based on practice and experience. When we acquire ability, we are completely human - with heart and soul and always physically involved. This is good for us. It's connected with joy and personal growth. We experience our self-efficacy. This can also be shown and proven neurobiologically. Examples of this are creative activities such as making music, dancing, practicing handicrafts, but also cooking and quite normal professions that require a lot of practice and experience.

On the one hand, there is a devaluation of expertise due to increasing mechanization and automation. On the other hand, we have, especially today, the possibilities for self-determination

CCB Magazine:In "Ethos der Kreativen", sociologist Cornelia Koppetsch has shown how creativity, authenticity and self-determination have become the most important working virtues of a flexible economy since the 1970s. Is ability something that has established itself through this change, or is it something that has been lost over time, especially through increasing mechanization?

Christine Ax:Both. On the one hand, there is a devaluation of skills due to increasing mechanization and automation, because these are increasingly replacing humans. On the other hand, we have the possibilities for self-determination especially today. Basically we are beings who are always on the move. We want to be in the flow and develop ourselves further. As the philosopher Ortega y Gasset remarked, it is human nature that we cannot be happy in a world that consists only of necessities. That's why we need freedom and the realm of the possible, which we have right now. At the same time, ability cannot be digitized.

CCB Magazine:What does that mean?

Christine Ax:Digital work can imply skill. But skill is always applied knowledge. We live in an information society, information is now available in abundance, but real knowledge and real skills are not. Real knowledge requires a special kind of skill, i.e. practice and practice. That's why we also have to practice handling information in such a way that it becomes real knowledge in the first place. Whether what we think we know is really true, we often do not know, we believe it. There is always a satisfying proof of ability - action. And this is what makes us strong and independent.

Photo © Nurith Wagner-Strauss


CCB Magazine:The development of the creative markets currently points in two directions: progressive digitization on the one hand, and a return to craftsmanship on the other. Do you see this as a contradiction?

Christine Ax:I do not see a contradiction in this. Rather, something new is currently emerging, something in between, a kind of third way: We are experiencing a form of expertise that can also survive in the digital age or is forming and establishing itself again today, but as a counter-trend to a world that is becoming increasingly technical and automated. In the process, completely new things are emerging again. More and more we are producing ourselves again, even at the interface between craftsmanship and technology. Just think of the numerous Maker Hubs in Berlin. This is where forms of work are created that are based on skill.

What currently is emerging is a kind of third way: We are experiencing a form of expertise that can also survive in the digital age

CCB Magazine:In your books you also deal with the connection between creative work, ecology and growth. Numerous labels, initiatives and companies in the creative industries today take social and ecological standards into account. Do you see this as a way out of the crisis? Or are the labels and companies - viewed globally - far too small to be able to develop any market power at all?

Christine Ax:Of course, small labels and companies have a hard time competing with large corporations. But they don't have to. Just growing all the time can also be dangerous. There is such a thing as optimal company size, as my studies or those of the Institute for Ecological Economic Research on the subject of "post-growth pioneers" have shown. Most of them already have their optimal size. Every leap to the next size also requires capital. On the one hand, not everyone has that, on the other hand it can be risky. Another point is that there have not been any major changes in the size of our companies in recent decades. Many companies don't have to grow at all, nor do they want to grow to the extent that they think they have to. Instead, we have to say goodbye to permanent growth.

CCB Magazine:Why that?

Christine Ax:From a purely economic point of view, our economy suffers only from problems of abundance - one could also speak of distribution problems. For example, we produce twice as many calories per capita as is necessary to feed all people. Nevertheless, far too much of humanity is starving. And another part is overfed; the secondary diseases are extremely expensive. We cannot go on as we have consumed for the last one hundred years. We are destroying the future chances of humanity on our planet. The most important contradiction that we have to overcome now has a lot to do with the topic of work. This is where creative work can actually lead out of the crisis.

CCB Magazine:How?

Christine Ax:We are a working company that runs out of work - for ecological and technological reasons. However, large parts of humanity still act as if we have to squander - resources and nature - in order to be allowed to work. And we can only resolve this contradiction if we distribute the declining volume of work more fairly and allow the type of activities that are associated with a low consumption of resources - and these are primarily manual and also creative activities. Not only do they make people happy because they are meaningful activities, they also enable them to work on themselves. Hannah Arendt called this "making" - in distinction to work. For this part of us Hannah Arendt used the term "homo faber". The central question is therefore: How can we transform our society in such a way that we are allowed to carry out all activities that make sense for us and the society and that enable us to live in peace with nature.

We need good work for life: for us, nature and as a result - goods for life

CCB Magazine:What do you suggest?

Christine Ax:I plead for a return to the principle of craftsmanship. But I don't mean that we should go back to the past or that we all have to go into crafts. That is not possible anyway. It means that we need a more humane economy and good work. Work is good for life: for us, for nature and as a result: goods for life. We need these opportunity rooms and laboratories.

CCB Magazine:Ms. Ax, you wrote your book "Die Könnensgesellschaft" a decade ago. Our platform is now also ten years old. What do you think when you think of the creative industries of tomorrow? What can it look like? What development potential do you see for solving social problems?

Christine Ax: We must share work and income fairly. And we need a policy that promotes self-determined good and creative work and the right to ownership of the means of production. We must strengthen the periphery. We need basic security and social policy instruments that promote individual enterprises and small businesses. The burden on the labor factor must be reduced. Non-renewable resources and all energy sources that contribute to climate change must become more expensive. We need much less bureaucracy. A turnaround in mobility and agriculture. And we need a policy that does something for small and medium-sized businesses. And when I talk about SMEs, I don't mean the EU definition of several hundred employees. I mean 80 percent of companies with fewer than ten employees - and thus also a large part of the creative industries, which are organized on a highly fragmented basis. Of course, all this must be embedded in an ecological market economy that functions according to principles of solidarity and takes financial capital into account. Property is an obligation. The common good must come before self-interest. That is possible. We must dare to revolt in favor of an economy and society that includes everyone and strives for true harmony with nature. I do not believe that this change is possible without conflict. Basically, we know that and how it works. But: Knowing is not yet knowing. We must not be afraid of making mistakes. Practice makes perfect.

Christine Ax: Philosopher and economist. Since the 1990s she has been researching forms of creative work, sustainable management and local economies.


The interview was published in the 10-year print edition "The Big Good Future" on 10 years Creative City Berlin. The magazine is freely available since December 1. All information is available here.

Category: Knowledge & Analysis

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