Macquarie University
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Byung-Chul Han and Burnout

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posted on 2023-01-25, 00:51 authored by Andrew White

Burnout is a pervasive phenomenon associated with modern work culture. In this thesis burnout is analysed through the philosophy of Byung-Chul Han. Han argues that neoliberal society is creating pathologies engendered by an obsession with maximising achievement and performance and an inability to engage in negative (or Other) experiences. For Han, ours is a society of excessive positivity that is to be contrasted with the disciplinary society. The (idealised) achievement subject is conditioned by new power relations to express unbounded freedom. But this creates a paradox—the free constraint of maximising individual achievement and self-optimisation. Burnout arises from this paradoxical form of freedom, which becomes an immanent form of violence—the violence of positivity. Han supports this argument with an original concept of power and the claim that psychopolitical power has become invisible and has replaced class struggle with an inner struggle of the self. The solutions proposed by Han, rely on the value of experiences of negativity, which can provide the impetus to counteract obsessive activity and burnout, and a reengagement with the Other. This can be enriched by the view that contemplation and periods of inactivity can give expression to autonomy and meaning. The thesis presents and critically analyses Han’s original approach in contemporary critical theory, drawing on other seminal references (notably Foucault and Agamben) and the emerging secondary literature dedicated to his work.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Burnout -- Chapter 2. Psychopolitics -- Chapter 3. Negativity -- Conclusion -- References

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis MRes

Department, Centre or School

Department of Philosophy

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jean-Philippe Deranty


Copyright: The Author Copyright disclaimer:




81 pages

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