What does redundant really mean?

It looks like masses of people will become redundant as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

And our economic systems and government policies have made paid employment the sole means to reliably feed, clothe and house your family.  It is also how we recognise the individual worth of citizens who make a valuable contribution to society. The oft used phrase “hard working” only refers to people in paid jobs. And the pandemic has highlighted that,  even in employment,  pay doesn’t reflect the relative value to society of any particular job (or even its utility at all!).

But what does it mean to be “redundant” . I looked it up and here’s the modern, most common definition.

not or no longer needed or useful; superfluous

So, people will now have to prove their eligibility for Universal Credit in the hopes that will pay them enough to eat and pay the rent (although probably not any mortgage). But just as bad, the label defines them as “not or no longer needed or useful” – up and until they secure another job – however poorly paid or ill-matched to their skills or interests that is.

Could we look at this differently? Is anyone ever actually “redundant” in that sense. Dr Katherine Trebeck has argued that our economic system lacks the resilience it needs because it has no inbuilt redundancy or slack. As profit and shareholder dividends became the goal, we developed Just-in-Time manufacturing followed by Just-in-Time employment to cut any slack out of the system and thereby maximise efficiency and profit for the benefit of wealthy shareholders.

In contrast, nature is one system that thrives on abundance making it very resilient. Why does the term abundant feel like a much more positive term than redundant? Again, I looked it up. The dictionary definition has a more positive feel:

existing or available in large quantities; plentiful

Abundance certainly would have felt a preferable state in relation to numerous critical items, people and services during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic here. Presumably, those staff, equipment and services were deemed “not or no longer needed or useful” at various points in the last few years.

Whilst the modern definitions and common usage of “redundant” and “abundant” express something so different, they actually share the same Latin root and clearly were synonomous in earlier times. The Latin root is “surging up” – again an entirely different feel.

Working with my artist colleagues is teaching me ways to explore knowing differently so I stopped thinking at this point and simply drew what came to mind in relation to the those two words – ‘redundant’ and ‘abundant’ – and their common Latin root to see what might emerge.

This is what emerged on the paper as I drew… so, could we choose a world where no-one was ever labelled as redundant, paid employment or no? Given a sustainable basis, everyone has the ability to contribute uniquely to the common good. Surgepic

About Alison Kidd

Research Psychologist
This entry was posted in Psychology, socially engaged art and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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