Bullshit jobs are structured like a language — Işık Barış Fidaner

Barış aktivisti, antropolog David Graeber, 59 yaşında hayatını kaybetti

David Graeber, in the last article that he was able to write before he recently passed away, called bullshit jobs “dream-work” [1]. His books occasionally refer to Freud or Lacan but he never used this essentially Freudian term “dream-work” before. We no longer have the chance to ask him in person but we can speculate that perhaps he was expressing a wish to see bullshit jobs interpreted by Freudians as a social symptom. So here it goes.

“Bullshit” refers to the anal drive from which any symbolic order originates. Bullshit jobs function like signifiers whose function is to prop up the symbolic order. In Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018) Graeber categorizes bullshit jobs in five groups: Goons, taskmasters, flunkeys, box-tickers and duct-tapers.

Goons and taskmasters actively assert the Master-Signifiers.

1) A goon aggressively defends the dominance of the particular Master-Signifier S1 that happens to pay his/her bills. Examples: A lawyer defending the “rights” of a brand in a public court; a telemarketer persuading the consumers about the “virtues” of a product. The scare quotes emphasize the bullshit effect that pertains to the misuse of these concepts.

2) A taskmaster uses the Master-Signifier S1 position in order to propagate the bullshitization (the proliferation of bullshit) by assigning and managing additional bullshit jobs. Example: A manager who has nothing to manage decides to invent meaningless tasks and employ people just to have something “substantial” to manage.

Flunkeys and box-tickers passively support the Master-Signifiers S1 by producing “knowledge” S2.

3) A flunkey props up the particular Master-Signifier S1 that happens to pay his/her bills by holding a dependent and passive position under that S1. Simply by showing up and nodding in confirmation, the flunkey can support the “knowledge” (chain of signifiers) S2 that “substantiates” the S1. The scare quotes emphasize the anal aspect of the “substance” in question.

4) A box-ticker strengthens the particular Master-Signifier S1 that happens to pay his/her bills by participating in the production of the “knowledge” S2 that depends on that S1. Box-ticking rituals serve to infinitely extend the “knowledge” S2 by appending new signifiers.

Even though they function less directly than goons and taskmasters, the ultimate aim of both flunkeys and box-tickers is to “Make S1 Great Again”.

5) Finally, a duct-taper plugs a hole in the symbolic order. Instead of serving a particular Master-Signifier exclusively, the duct-taper holds an exceptional symptomatic position that covers over the abyssal openings of non-meaning that emerge between multiple Master-Signifiers. The duct-taper is almost like the signifier of the lack in the Other S(Ⱥ).

Işık Barış Fidaner is a computer scientist with a PhD from Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. Admin of Yersiz Şeyler, Editor of Žižekian Analysis, Curator of Görce Writings. Twitter: @BarisFidaner

Notes:

[1] “After the Pandemic, We Can’t Go Back to Sleep” David Graeber

5 comments

  1. This is great. I wish you made the exact relation to the 4 discourses explicit (ideally with a diagram!):

    > A taskmaster uses the Master-Signifier S1 position in order to propagate the bullshitization…

    Discourse of the master.

    > Flunkeys and box-tickers passively support the Master-Signifiers S1 by producing “knowledge” S2…

    Discourse of the hysteric.

    > A goon aggressively defends the dominance of the particular Master-Signifier S1 that happens to pay his/her bills…

    Discourse of the university.

    > A duct-taper plugs a hole in the symbolic order. Instead of serving a particular Master-Signifier exclusively, the duct-taper holds an exceptional symptomatic position that covers over the abyssal openings of non-meaning that emerge between multiple Master-Signifiers…

    Discourse of the analyst.

    Could be a really useful tool for understanding the 4 discourses in general!

    Liked by 1 person

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