The Tactics of a Vacation

Vacations are a lot of fun. They are guaranteed to us in both school and work. Most students and workers also get some portion of the week off, in the United States this is known as the weekend. We look forward to these periods as an escape from the daily routine of our lives. Instead of working, we do stuff that we want to do (I use working to mean both the daily routine of workers and students). Applying Certeau, it can be said that working is a strategy employed by capitalism, while weekends and vacations are tactics used to subvert the capitalist need for work. However, these vacations are a false tactic given to us in order to further cement the foundation of capitalism within society.

Capitalism is no longer how Marx described it. Marx based his theories of capitalism on the notion of labor time of a worker in a factory. For example, someone in a factory would work for eight hours per day, five days per week. This is not applicable to the labor time of middle/upper class white-collar workers. Professions that fit into this categorization include professors, programmers, architects, and lawyers.  Franco Berardi, an Italian philosopher, called this new form of capitalism “semiocapitalism.” Labor time is no longer bound by when one punches in and out. Instead, people within these jobs are always working. They are given long-term projects where it is expected that they bring their work home. It is impossible to divorce the work in these professions during periods of rest as their labor is cognitive in nature.

Since work can no longer be delineated within hours per day, vacations are no longer vacations. How we treat vacations has now changed. People bring their work with them when they take a vacation as they are forced to. Additionally, there is a decline in the amount of paid vacation time used (Langfield). There is a mentality that it is shameful to take a vacation. Yet, people still look at vacations as an escape, even if they are not really used. They are now a false promise. This shows that vacations cannot be considered a viable tactic as it is not used as it was once intended. Vacations are thus a calculated concession on the part of capitalist institutions.

Even if one takes a “typical vacation,” this act feeds into the mass production of cultural goods. People go on vacations and support capitalist systems. This is evident if one goes to Disneyworld, or as Jamaica Kincaid pointed out, visits a foreign place. People go to these places to escape their lives, yet as depressing as it sounds, there is no escape in semiocapitalism. Horkheimer and Adorno offer a much more compelling explanation of culture that can be applied to vacations. The culture industry is consumed during these vacations. This culture industry is then used to make the capitalist means of production stronger. For example, Disney produced movies that became ingrained within American culture, and then people go and visit Disneyworld during their vacation. These movies fit into the mold of cultural goods produced for the masses. Other features of the culture industry, such as televised sports events, are targeted for consumption over the weekend and are used as a vehicle to promote commercialization. Not only do people not take their vacation time, but also when they do, they only make capitalism stronger by participating in the culture industry.

Capitalism has evolved to form a positive feedback loop by using vacations as a false means of escape from its system. Vacations are not tactics as a true tactic would require subversion of a system. However, typical vacations are still trapped within capitalism, ultimately showing that it is very hard to escape from this system.  I do believe that the points outlined above can very well explain why there are people in their mid-twenties to late thirties that quit their jobs and decide to vacation for an extended period of time. It can also be used to show why so many more people want to work in Silicon Valley as opposed to Wall Street. Some questions to consider would be where do traditional workers fit within this analysis? Is there an example of a vacation that can be used as a tactic against the system of capitalism?

Works Cited

Langfield, Amy. “Unused Vacation Days at 40-year High.” CNBC. 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. <;.



  1. Really, really good thought here Camron.

    I can definitely relate and testify to what you describe here… even just this morning, while I was at the gym working out (which is supposed to be “me” time), I received and responded to several school emails and work emails. I even made a work-related phone call.

    I think that perhaps the only tactic we have left in this system would be to find a job that we literally enjoy doing just as much as anything else, that way the extra unpaid hours don’t sting as much, and we find fulfillment in time we put into it.

    With that said, a mentor of mine loves his job, however, it constantly spills into family time and as an adult, this has been problematic for him and his family over time. I think its a huge trade-off. I don’t remember if it was for this class or not, but some time this semester I was asked if I’d rather be 1) a fisherman who provides for my family with the fish I catch and never makes contact from the outside world, or 2) that same fisherman who is then contacted by a business man who tells me I could expand my fishing business, make profits, and even donate extra fish to the needy… Capitalism kind of entices us with the second ideal – become a lawyer! You will be able to provide a great life for your family, and even have money left over! However, we have to ask ourselves how much the family time we lose in careers like that is worth compared to the salary.



  2. Good post. I was just wondering if you indeed think it is necessary to qualify a “typical vacation” e.g. a trip to disneyworld or Antigua. While there is, at least in the United States as I’m not sure if this concept is universal, the concept of the “staycation,” would this too not be considered as perpetuation of thes system through simulated suversion? I believe so. Sure, the staycationer may not be overtly supporting those in the workforce by renting a hotel room or purchasing souvenir merchandise, but they are, in a way, contributing to the overall goal of a capitalist economy: increased efficiancy and, in some cases, scale of production. Those who take off of work just to have a period of rest or an extended break or what have you are indeed forwarding these goals. It is accepted that there is such a thing as being overworked or overextended or any other “over” state that leads ultimately to diminished productivity in the workplace at the expense of quality of contribution. Thus, by allowing and in some cases requiring that their workers take time off of their jobs for some portion of the year, while in the short run decreasing the amount of active human capital available to the firms, these vacations are in part one of the sustaining factors of business. Not only are costs saved for the time that people take off, but there is no additional investment that would be required in training a new worker if companies took the other route of avoidance of overworking i.e. simply firing employees and picking up new ones once they cease to be productive. So ultimately, I agree with the ideas presented in your post, but feel that your emphasis on “typical” vacations may have been incomplete, although it does indeed illustrate the basic notion behind vacation time as per Horkheimer.



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