Reviewing multiple traditions of social analysis of work, skill and knowledge this article seeks to renew the possibility for a critical, integrated approach. Contextualizing and then criticizing the ongoing ‘up-skilling/de-skilling impasse’, I offer discussion of several alternative conceptual resources that may contribute to a more robust appreciation for learning and human development, potentially unified under a suggested ‘Use-Value Thesis’ on the labour/ learning process. It is argued that recognizing ‘use-value’ sets the stage for a broader systemic understanding of the contradictory processes (e.g. up-skilling/de-skilling, engagement/alienation, co-operation/conflict) that occur simultaneously in all workplaces under capitalism, and in turn offers a means to more coherently assess the full range of human learning.
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