Review: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber, Penguin Books

David Graeber makes an historical, sociological and anthropological critique on late-stage capitalism.
Review: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber, Penguin Books

David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

In the spring of 2013, David Graeber ‘unwittingly set off a very minor internet sensation’ by writing an essay for feminist magazine Strike. The essay, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, was ‘based on a hunch’. By autumn 2018, he had received thousands of emails from people confessing to or who thought that their jobs were bullshit. The American anarchist and professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics then curated their stories and expanded on this ‘hunch’ to write his latest book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. Now, it has become a movement. And whether you’re a hard Leftist or have ever had a job you consider to be bullshit, Graeber’s historical, sociological and anthropological critique on late-stage capitalism requires attention.

We’re all familiar with those jobs that seem, at least to the outsider, unnecessary. The world wouldn’t change if they didn’t exist. Or maybe the world would be better off without them. Lobbyists, corporate lawyers, ‘The sort of people who spend their time staffing committees that discuss the problem of unnecessary committees.'

But bullshit jobs are different from shit jobs. A ‘garbage man’ is necessary to society. History shows us this with the Great Garbage Strike of 1968 in New York City, where 100,000 tons of trash piled the streets before the bosses crumbled in the face of industrial action. There are five categories of bullshit jobs: Flunky, Goon, Duct Taper, Box Ticker and Taskmaster. They can range from doormen and receptionists to lobbyists and corporate lawyers. They might be an investment banker or receptionist in a large company, working alongside those employed to fix a problem that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Or they could be in middle management, overusing buzzwords like ‘leadership’ and ‘quality’ and ‘performance’.

Graeber compares nurses to investment bankers and finds only one has a positive impact. The other, if it vanished tomorrow, would not affect the world negatively upon disappearance – it may actually help if they disappeared.

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory gives real-world examples from the hilarious and absurd to the tragic. Most are funny, you realise the very real effect it has on our psyches. This book will make you want to do something worthwhile with your time and help you better understand your situation. It will introduce you to the term ‘late-stage bullshitisation’, which is a combination of globalisation and bullshit. Maybe it will articulate a feeling you’ve had for a long time. Wherever you sit on the political compass, Bullshit Jobs is a sobering and approachable take on the labour theory of value, feminist care ethics and Universal Basic Income for everyone.  

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory 
By David Graeber
Available in hardcover, Kindle and Audiobook
RRP $19.62
May 14, 2018
Penguin Books

James Arbuthnott

Thursday 27 September, 2018

About the author

James Arbuthnott is a regional journalist in the Campaspe area, Victoria and book reviewer at ArtsHub Australia. Twitter: @we_forgot