Work is vital for most individuals and for every society. Yet it leads a Cinderella-like existence within social anthropology. Even today we can learn from older social scientists like Karl Marx, Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, Karl Bücher, Eduard Hahn, Wilhelm Ostwald, and Max Weber. Comparing industrial and non-industrial work, they were interested in the character of work as performance, play or ethical deed, and as rational action. Due to a lack of ethnographic studies, the empirical basis of their analysis remained weak. A serious ethnography of work was started by Karl Weule, Richard Thurnwald, and Bronislaw Malinowski. Having close links to the older social scientists they introduced new perspectives based on fieldwork in Africa and Melanesia.
Gerd Spittler is professor emeritus of Social Anthropology at the University of Bayreuth. His many publications on work include the monograph Hirtenarbeit (1998) and two co-edited books Arbeit in Afrika (1996) and Le travail en Afrique noire (2003).