work ethic

Jan Brzezinski jagat at
Mon Mar 3 00:29:30 UTC 1997

Dear friends,

I am currently engaged in a bibliographical project on the work ethic in
non-occidental traditions. I am soliciting help in the matter as my own
knowledge of the area is severely limited.

The discussion arises out of the Weberian thesis of the Protestant ethic,
which associates certain beliefs of the Puritans with their adoption of a
'rationalized' capitalism, which stresses efficiency, class mobility, etc.,
in contrast with traditional modes of 'mercantile' capitalism. As a
corollary proof to his thesis that the work ethic of the Puritans had a
unique character which accounted for the fact that Western European society
was the fountainhead of modern capitalism, Weber also engaged in studies of
non-Western societies. His critiques of Indian and Chinese religion, in
particular, were meant to demonstrate that these cultures had an 'ethic'
which was incapable of producing a rationalized capitalism of the Western
sort. This critique has produced a lengthy debate both in the East and the
West, particularly in view of certain developments in the history of the
work ethic in Western social history. 

Kantowsky (1982) and Buss (1985) hold that, contrary to the perception of
him held by many, Weber was not an ideologue for cultural imperialism but
one who believed that each society had to evolve an indigenous ethic which
reflects its own genius and will result in its own unique model of
development. The above-mentioned authors look to Gandhi as someone who
expressed just such an indigenous ethic and contrast him with Nehru whom
they feel tried to graft Western industrialization and economic structures
on a basically non-adaptable Indian personality. By way of contrast, Singer
(1972, 1985, etc.) holds that there are adaptive mechanisms by which modern
and traditional religious values can be brought into a certain harmony.
Bankim, Tilak, Vivekananda, etc., in their writings tried to harness the
concepts of karma-yoga and bring it into the service of the concept of
development and adoption of Western economic techniques.

It is the search for indigenous concepts of work as expressed in religious
and cultural traditions, in view of the need for modification in the
processes of modernization in the industrializing and non-industrialized
world, which is at the basis of this project. I am looking for up-to-date,
primarily secondary-source literature which pursues this debate, not only in
the Indian context, but in all non-Western
contexts. Naturally, any thoughts on the subject by scholars are most
enthusiastically welcomed.

Thanking you all in advance for your help,

       	Jan K. Brzezinski, Ph.D.
1262 rue St-Joseph, Val-David, QC J0T 2N0
       (819) 322-3382, 322-6146

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