Main project – University of Copenhagen

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State and Life-modes > Research > Main project

Neoculturation of life-modes during the current transformation of state system and world economy - the challenges, variations and changes in cultural life-modes

Departing in an ethnological research project carried out around 1980 this project seeks to further develop and update the life-mode theory. As a cultural and social theory, the life-mode theory proposes that it is possible to localize and specify a number of mutually dependent and often conflicting life-modes. Each life-mode is characterized by certain way of organizing life, as for instance, being self-employed, wage-worker or as a career oriented manager. As a cultural theory, the life-modes concepts can be applied to the analysis of internal societal differences and their role in the ongoing transformations of state and society.

The project will take its point of departure in the life-mode concepts that were identified thirty years ago and which can provide the basis for the examination of the empirical transformation that has taken place since then. Secondly, on the basis of new empirical field studies the research will examine and question new life-modes that in turn require a further theoretical examination and elaboration. Finally, the diverse design of the subprojects will enable a theoretical understanding of the particular relations and structural features, which in conjunction create (and recreate) a new totality of contrasting life-modes in state and society.

The general idea

The life-mode analysis is based on conceptual specifications. This means that it develops its concepts in a root structure that enables it to specify each concept and to examine on which  level of specification it is necessary to rectify the conceptualization when the theory is challenged by the researchers’ experiences of applying it. Inspired by Louis Hjelmslev’s method of specification the life-mode theory develops concepts that enable the examination of the principally different ways to organize life that structure the everyday practices of a society as well as the deeply different conceptual worlds that are hidden beneath the seemingly uniform national language (Hjelmslev 1966).

Around 1980 the life-mode theory made it possible to show a different social landscape contrary to the prevalent notion that the Danish working population was mainly structured by work and leisure time. Instead there could be found at least four different life-modes. Three of them were structured principally different from the wage worker. Seen from within the conceptual logic of the theory the three other life-modes did neither contain the, for a wage-earner specific work and leisure concepts nor the contrast and the means-end relationship that give these two concepts their particular meaning for the wage-earner.

Four Life-modes

Even though work and leisure time were broadly applied, the meaning attached to the concepts were in principle different. The first life-mode theory could specify: 

1) A conceptual world where the concept ‘free’ is connected with being free as an independent trader or producer whose enterprise is a means which is an end in itself (the daily work as self-employed) – i.e. with no or little contrast between working and being free.

2) A conceptual world where leisure time is the opposite of working time, and where one is seen as the free time and the other as duty hours.

3) A conceptual world where the personal engagement in unfolding one’s creativity and expertise gives freedom to create a career across companies, because the content and quality of work is the end while the companies are means to realizing one’s creative engagement.

4) A conceptual world where the freedom to develop and invest capital in companies where growth is expected to be highest, is the core of the freedom to dispose whereby a timely used risk-taking is the means to optimizing one’s rate of return and vice versa. 

Life-modes revisited 

Can we still meaningfully apply these specifications? In our current research we are revisiting these four different ways of life, in order to examine how their basic conditions have changed and how they constitute each other in new ways as contemporary life-modes.

Subproject 1 is concerned with self-employed food producers and knowledge-based consultants. Subproject 2 relates to wage workers, routine work and labor migration. Subproject 3 is involved with highly educated mobile labor with specific attention to family life and career planning. The fourth subproject is centered around the flexibility of investor capital and production, and examines how a state seeks to influence and control the temporariness of the production system.

Read the full project document here.