Tuesday, 11 October 2011

My activity and me

According to Arendt (1958), “labour is the activity which corresponds to the biological process of the human body” (whereas) “work is the activity which corresponds to the unnaturalness of human existence” (p. 7).

From this I understand that labour is done out of necessity; we have to do it to survive.  Work however is a choice, it is something we find enjoyable and our survival does not rely on it.  When I cook, according to Green (1968), I am labouring: "whatever is produced by labor is produced to be consumed, not to be put into use" (p. 18).

The cooking I do every day it represents that I am a mother, a nurturer and an organiser - these words describe the roles I take on out of the necessity to provide for my family.  If however I think about the cooking I do out of enjoyment, I am still a mother and nurturer but also a creator and a researcher.  Essentially I am a person with different values when I cook out of necessity versus out of want.

So 'why do I need to do this activity?'.  I cook for different reasons – some days I simply labour; other days when I have more time I labour and work.

I labour to cook in order to keep my family alive, safe and physically healthy; also to keep order in my family life and therefore reduce my own anxieties.

On the contrary, I work to cook to provide interesting and tasty meals for my family; to create an environment of sitting together to eat and communicate; to find pleasure and relaxation for myself and hold onto memories of cooking with my mum; and to cook with my daughter in order to create connections for her to the activity.

Fundamentally cooking is cooking, however when I differentiate between the labour side of cooking and the work side of cooking they have very different meanings for me personally.


Arendt, H. (1958).  The human condition.  Chicago, USA: Chicago University Press.

Green, T. F. (1968).  Work, leisure and the American schools.  New York, USA: Random House.


  1. Hi Anna, I really like the way that you have summarised the meaning of work & labour and also how you have descrided what cooking means to you. I agree with you, it definetly depends on how you look at it and what it means to the individual. It just makes me wonder how women from diverse cultures may view this. Cheers, Cara

  2. Interesting thought Cara! I guess I have the luxury of choosing when I wish to cook and when I really don't.. when I don't we can just go and get a takeaway or open a can of beans!! To many women in the developing world, I imagine that cooking is viewed very much as labour because for many it would be solely about survival and the health and well-being of their families.

    Thanks for the comment :)

  3. Thanks I found it interesting the way you classify cooking as both work and labour and how this is effected by how you feel about it. quote come to mind along the lines of "nothing is good or bad just thinking that makes it so". have you thought about linking the work/labour concept in with morality

  4. Hi Lyn
    Thanks for the comment.. yes you are right how I view cooking definately relates to my mood and how I am thinking. I haven't really considered morality but it is an interesting thought.. I assume you mean the labour and moral code that I have to feed my children versus the work that cooking for fun brings?



  5. Sorry Fenja..thought the above post was from Lyn..thanks for the comment :)