Grant H. Kester is Professor of Art History at the University of California, San Diego, author of
Social Labor and Communicative Action
This chapter turns to the Marxist concept of “social labor” to delineate an alternate theoretical paradigm to account for the aesthetic qualities of engaged art. In this view, the act of resistance has the capacity to transform the consciousness of the agents of resistance, laying the groundwork for the development of alternative social forms that can transcend the limitations of the capitalist lifeworld. The chapter argues that social labor provides a valuable resource for rethinking the self-transformative potential of praxis. It also informs the work of figures such as Habermas and Honneth as they seek to move beyond the resignation of Adorno’s later work through theories of “communicative action” and “recognition.” Readers encounter a significant parallel to the concept of social labor in the cultural modalities of “new social movements” during the 1960s and 1970s, which addressed forms of oppression based on gender, sexuality, race, and class.