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Wild to Civilized

Types of
Division of Labor

Humans have the three basic types of division of labor -- the sexual, the craft, and the industrial divisions of labor. Each one involves unique person-to-person and collective movement patterns.

From small nomadic packs 

in the African wilderness . . .

. . . to megacities linked in

worldwide civilization

Analyzing divisions of labor in terms of movement patterns

This section on Types of Division of Labor was developed by Skip Schloming for his doctoral dissertation on "Centralization and Decentralization" while he was a graduate student in sociology at Brandeis University (1964 - 1974). His analysis looks at how people with different jobs or tasks move in relation to others as they perform their tasks on various work objects and pass those work objects on to other workers or to consumers. His focus is on the patterns that develop as people move across horizontal surfaces such as floors, sidewalks, streets, etc. This focus likely had its roots in his teens when Skip considered being an architect and spent many hours drawing floor plans for houses of all sorts. Also, he and college friends hiked extensively in California's Sierra Nevada mountains and used topographic maps to determine where to go. He was always keen on determining people's occupations as a primary way to identify them.


After their marriage, he and Lenore fought about major issues in the field of sociology. She defended scientific method and observable facts; he defended abstract concepts like "community" and "bureaucracy." They also fought about her developing typology of movement patterns -- the latter being an utterly different approach in the field of sociology and utterly different from Skip's original focus. Once Skip understood Lenore's typology, however, he wanted to link his dissertation to it. He searched the field of sociology for any phenomenon that involved movement (horizontal) rather than structure (vertical). He landed on the division of labor -- once he realized that, when people specialize in one way or another, they do a specialized task on a "work object" of any sort and pass it along to another specialized worker to do another specialized task or to complete the object and make it usable for survival. He discovered and identified a typology of divisions of labor -- the sexual, the craft, and the industrial divisions of labor -- with different basic movement patterns that neatly corresponded to Lenore's typology of social relationships defined in terms of movement patterns.

This section on types of division of labor is drawn from his doctoral dissertation, either in its original form or redrafted for the general public.

What is division of labor?

We regularly talk about the division of labor in everyday life, and we assume we know what it means. Different people do different jobs. Even specialists, like anthropologists, sociologists, and historians, talk of it loosely and assume their audience knows what it is. The division of labor and its many variants are the building blocks of the economy and many other parts of our society. Yet no scientific discussion of it has, to our knowledge, ever occurred—with one exception.


An early, influential French social thinker, Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), wrote an entire book on the division of labor without ever mentioning movement patterns, which is our focus. He focused on whether the individuals in a society are held together in “solidarity” by their likeness to each other or their differentiation from each other. Likeness held people together in primitive societies and was achieved by everyone holding the same religious beliefs and doing the same rituals in common. Differentiation holds people together in modern societies, Durkheim argued, by the mutual dependence created between persons with different skills and jobs. Even though we have different occupations, we need each other because we need what they create. Durkheim's argument for solidarity from occupational differentiation was never entirely strong. He went on to write several other significant works, but he never wrote further on the division of labor. And other sociologists also have never studied the division of labor further. Durkheim's observations, while true, do not do justice to what divisions of labor are. In particular, he does not go into the movement patterns that arise in different divisions of labor.

This Part III of our work deals with the three basic types of division of labor that, in myriad combinations, have occurred in all societies since a division of labor first began among us humans about two million years ago, with the development of hunting. These divisions of labor are the sexual, the craft, and the industrial divisions of labor, which are the fundamental components of what we also call the economy. They are the means by which we survive in the physical world, how the tasks we must do to survive physically are divided up in different ways amongst different individuals.


How we survive physically is our focus, but it is not the only way that people have divided tasks differently between them. Divisions of labor are everywhere. Our interpersonal relationships often, and perhaps always, involve divisions of labor on the various topics and issues and activities we pursue with others. Shall we go shopping now? Why don’t I do the dishes while you get the car ready? How beautiful you look tonight!


Our public laws create divisions of labor by which we agree to do or not do various activities, both economic and interpersonal, to achieve goals and maintain social order. Thou shalt not kill. Honor thy father and thy mother. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet anything that is thy neighbor’s.


All sports, too, are various divisions of labor leading to the final score.


Our religions restrain and encourage our behavior in directions that allow us to live and work together—harmoniously, we hope, but also even in combat.


All these activities involve divisions of labor. But in this work, we concentrate on those activities by which we survive physically in our work tasks—which are most of our daily activities. Even religious leaders, who exhort us to good works and abiding faith, are involved in contracts that supply their food, housing, and other amenities that they need for their physical survival, which allows them to do their religious work.

The social element in divisions of labor

By virtue of the division of labor among us, we move.  We move together with some individuals and keep apart from others as we pass along our work objects, passing them from one person to the next and on to the final consumer. With other people in our work process, we may have no contact at all because they carry on their work far away. Our various work tasks on our work objects are arranged and located not only to accomplish our tasks, but to put us close to the people in the work process to whom we approach and pass along the work objects we have worked on. We then move apart from these individuals in order to perform our tasks again on new work objects. And we are kept apart from still other workers who do the same or different tasks on different work objects in other locations, never giving us an opportunity to come into contact with them, at least as part of the work process itself.


In this coming-together and keeping-apart lies the social element of the division of labor, and the corresponding movement patterns that emerge with it. A division of labor is not, as we usually think of it, just different people doing different tasks. It always involves the passing of work objects or products from one individual to the next, which involves us moving into contact with them. Work objects come in all varieties:  physical products, like cans of tomato soup or generators for automobiles or pelts from our captures. Other varieties of physical products occur, like a finally approved application form for a building permit or the daily newspaper. Even non-physical “products” are possible and often very common:  a completed worship service with congregants leaving in a changed state of mind, a social worker’s patient who leaves the office with new ideas of what to do in their lives.

Questions or comments:

The Social Element
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