Bullshit Jobs: A Theory

Graeber, David

On physicists

These days, it’s hard to recall the almost mystical aura with which the financial sector had surrounded itself in the years leading up to 2008. Financiers had managed to convince the public—and not just the public, but social theorists, too (I well remember this)—that with instruments such as collateralized debt obligations and high-speed trading algorithms so complex they could be understood only by astrophysicists, they had, like modern alchemists, learned ways to whisk value out of nothing by means that others dared not even try to understand. Then, of course, there came the crash, and it turned out that most of the instruments were scams. Many weren’t even particularly sophisticated scams. bullshit-jobsch. 5

Of course, that still hasn't stopped the physicists, thinking they've solved the secrets of universe, from flouncing into other fields, pronouncing those fields 'trivial', and imposing their 'expert' opinion on them by slapping an Ising model on the whole shebang.

The Bored at Work Network

The most common complaint among those trapped in offices doing nothing all day is just how difficult it is to repurpose the time for anything worthwhile. One might imagine that leaving millions of well-educated young men and women without any real work responsibilities but with access to the internet—which is, potentially, at least, a repository of almost all human knowledge and cultural achievement—might spark some sort of Renaissance. Nothing remotely along these lines has taken place. Instead, the situation has sparked an efflorescence of social media (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter): basically, of forms of electronic media that lend themselves to being produced and consumed while pretending to do something else. I am convinced this is the primary reason for the rise of social media, especially when one considers it in the light not just of the rise of bullshit jobs but also of the increasing bullshitization of real jobs. As we’ve seen, the specific conditions vary considerably from one bullshit job to another. Some workers are supervised relentlessly; others are expected to do some token task but are otherwise left more or less alone. Most are somewhere in between. Yet even in the best of cases, the need to be on call, to spend at least a certain amount of energy looking over one’s shoulder, maintaining a false front, never looking too obviously engrossed, the inability to fully collaborate with others—all this lends itself much more to a culture of computer games, YouTube rants, memes, and Twitter controversies than to, say, the rock ’n’ roll bands, drug poetry, and experimental theater created under the midcentury welfare state. What we are witnessing is the rise of those forms of popular culture that office workers can produce and consume during the scattered, furtive shards of time they have at their disposal in workplaces where even when there’s nothing for them to do, they still can’t admit it openly.

This exact observation was dubbed the "Bored at Work Network" (BWN)bored-at-work by none other than the king of listicles himself, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti.


bored-at-work McLaren, Carrie. 2008. “Jonah Peretti on Contagious Media, Social Networking, Etc.”. Stay Free!. ↩︎ 1

bullshit-jobs Graeber, David. 2018. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. Penguin UK. ↩︎ 1