2. Two Kinds of Work


Early humans invented far more than baskets. They had tools of all kinds for gathering, hunting, fishing, cooking, tools for making clothing out of pelts, for building shelters, cutting tendons and working with leather, combs and brushes, and eventually also for making bone and wooden flutes, drums, sculptures, jewelry, and more.

As the story of Section 1 helps bring out, the work of making and repairing baskets was different from the work of getting and preparing food.1It is true that sometimes the same people who gathered food with baskets would also help to make and repair baskets. That just further emphasizes the fact that there were two types of work. It would be good to have names for these two types of work. We will use Lonergan’s terminology2CWL21.: basic and surplus.

What does basic work yield? Basic work includes, for instance, hunting and gathering food, making clothes and musical instruments. In other words, basic work is all of what goes into providing the group with what is to be consumed and enjoyed in routines of surviving and living.

But, even in primitive groups, most basic work was done by using tools of some kind or by relying on tasks to yield whatever might be needed. But, in this second type of work, surplus, what was made were tools, baskets and such, in other words, items and tasks needed for basic work.3For now it is convenient to use these names. “The ultimate products of the basic stage, whether goods or services, enter into the standard of living. The ultimate products of the surplus stages, whether goods or services, do not enter into the standard of living. CWL21, 240. See also concluding paragraphs of this section.

Were the two types of work sometimes the same? At first glance, it might seem so. In hunting, for instance, some parts of an animal were for food, some for clothing, some were used for decoration and ornaments, and some were used for tools. But, making these were distinct tasks. In divisions of labor in early groups, they were often done by different people.

What is evident, then, is that the primitive oikonomia4See note 3 of Section 1. was a productive process and that the productive process has two different kinds of work for meeting two kinds of need, basic and surplus.

Why do we call it a productive process? From natural resources, basic and surplus work produce or provide what is needed. So, the name “productive” works well. But, why do we also say “process”? We are not suggesting that early human groups had these words and ideas.  The primitive oikonomia5See note 5. was a process because: both types of work occurred regularly, at rates (e.g., when in season, so many baskets of berries per day; so many per season). Of course, there were seasonal fluctuations.

A preliminary diagram can help draw attention to two concurrent types of work:

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