When people hear of ‘work’, it is usually waged or salaried employment. Governments and commentators rarely speak of the work of hustling, child-rearing or subsistence farming. Instead, work is generally referred to in the narrowly economic and legal sense as non-domestic, legally codified, paid employment.
Yet this model of work is the global exception. Wage employment was invented by European states in the 18th and 19th centuries to generate an industrial workforce. It later provided social protections such as sick pay, holidays and pensions to groups of predominantly able-bodied white male workers through what became known as the ‘standard employment relationship’. But this relationship was only ever available to a minority of people outside Western Europe and North America.