The Theory of Conceptual Labor
Tenets of Conceptual Labor
- Labor can be modeled with fundamental components
- Individuals experience conceptual labor through a unique mental model
- Conceptual labor is required when all components of a model are dynamic and interdependent
- We tend towards models with static and well-defined components
- Models must be continuously updated
- Part of conceptual labor is understanding and explaining why it is necessary
- Conceptual labor tends towards abstraction but is rooted in specifics
Tenets 1 & 2: Modeling Labor
- We work according to our ideas about work and labor
- Who we are is part of how we work
- An individual’s idea of work is their reality of work.
- Complex labor requires a model with many properties and rules for how they interact
- Conceptual labor changes as you do it
- Conceptual labor can be hard to see
- Comparing models is important, legitimate work
- Conceiving of work is real work
- Models must be revealed
- Models must be compared against reality
- Models may be applied without being understood
Tenets 3 & 4: Labor Changes
- Models embody beliefs
- We follow the conventional narrative if we believe that our model has as least one static component
- The conventional narrative is the default narrative of work.
- We have to do conceptual labor because the conventional narrative fails us all the time.
- We resist conceptual labor for many reasons
- It is difficult to redefine labor at the rate at which it changes
Tenets 5 & 6: Competing Narratives
- Doing work and changing the narrative of how you work must happen simultaneously
- Labor that modifies its own narrative is a conversation
- In this conversation, we must represent our experience
- The ideal state of this conversation is spontaneous, continuous agreement
- Labor that can change its own narrative is cyclical
- Successful conceptual labor cannot be fully planned, only cultivated
Tenet 7: Patterns and materials of conceptual labor
- Specific and relevant qualities of conceptual labor are embodied in the media in which it is performed
- Conceptual labor cannot be fully separated from its media
- To model labor is to abstract it
- Mental models of labor share methods of abstraction and can be measured on a fixed scale.
- Basic patterns of conceptual labor can be learned and developed as skills.