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date: 25 October 2020

Texts and Times Mapping the Changing Study of Work and Organizations

Abstract and Keywords

This text brings together the work of contemporary scholars to explore the changing nature of work, employment relations, occupations, and organizations in the context of the global economy. Its purpose is to provide a map of what is happening to people at work across a wide array of settings. To this end, the map is informed by a broad range of theoretical perspectives — such as varieties of institutional theory and radical political economy as developed by European, American, Australasian, and other scholars. But the book does not claim to deliver just a map: it also claims to be a reliable map of a definite terrain. In order to deliver this, it draws on empirical research from many disciplines, including industrial and economic sociology, psychology, organization studies, industrial and labor relations, and economics.

Keywords: employment relations, occupations, organizations, global economy, sociology, psychology, organization studies, industrial and labor relations, economics

In this Handbook, we bring together the work of contemporary scholars to explore the changing nature of work, employment relations, occupations, and organizations in the context of the global economy. Our purpose is to provide a map of what we know and do not know about what is happening to people at work across a wide array of settings. To this end, the map is informed by a broad range of theoretical perspectives—such as varieties of institutional theory and radical political economy as developed by European, American, Australasian, and other scholars. But the book does not claim to deliver just a map: it also claims to be a reliable map of a definite terrain. In order to deliver this, it draws on empirical research from many disciplines, including industrial and economic sociology, psychology, organization studies, industrial and labor relations, and economics.

(p. 2)

Thus, the analyses in this book address key debates surrounding the changing nature of work and organizations from a wide range of perspectives. While the authors have their own unique analytical lenses for utilizing, appraising, and critiquing the literature on a given topic, all of the contributors use empirical research to inform their arguments and present the debates at hand. Each Hand-book chapter affords readers the opportunity to learn about the current research on a given topic as well as to develop a place to stand vis-à-vis the nature of change and who has benefited or lost in the process.

This Handbook is different from others, recently published, that have a similar subject but that focus primarily on meta-theoretical literature reviews and debates over differing interpretations of organizational change. Their focus is primarily on ways of thinking about organizations, rather than on what we know about them. While useful for sorting out epistemological differences, these handbooks frequently pay short shrift to what is actually happening at work. The focus on ways of knowing has led many researchers to shift away from empirical studies to textual analyses of rhetoric. Both are needed, but in the current environment, rhetorical analysis has increasingly displaced critical-empirical investigation. Thus, in the debates over meaning we have lost sight of the reality of actual change.

In the remaining sections of the Introduction, we outline the contributions of this Handbook in greater detail. First, we provide a brief intellectual history of handbooks of work and organization studies over the last few decades. We highlight their most important analytical breakthroughs and contributions. Second, we discuss further the fundamental differences between recent handbooks on work and organization and our own. In the third section, we briefly summarize the central research questions and findings from the chapters presented here and draw out some of the key trends and patterns about work and organization in the new century.

Origin of the Present Project

Not very long ago it was a fresh and compelling observation to note that each generation writes its own textbooks. If texts are products of times, they are not simply mirrors of them. For example, if the world of work and organizations is now more complex, the means of understanding it are also more fragmented as disciplines and perspectives proliferate. Nevertheless, while the history of ideas is never a simple linear acquisition of knowledge, we hope that this Handbook can take its place in a long tradition of similar writing that examines the character of work (p. 3) organizations and their contribution to economy and society. Several earlier hand-books with a similarly broad scope as our own are key intellectual reference points for understanding the world of work and organizations in their respective historical eras.

The first distinctive account of the new academic field of organization studies was American and identified itself as the study of organizational behavior (OB). Organizational behavior drew on an intellectual heritage with strong empirical interests and an applied focus. The title of the subject captured a useful ambiguity: it could refer to the human behavior found in organizations or the behavior of organizations themselves. The subject actually linked what people do at work with the place and role of organizations in society, designating a large territory that could be explored by research. Those who worked in this field could draw on the deep reservoirs of the American sociology of work and occupations, on the one hand, and occupational psychology, on the other. In 1962, when organizational behavior was becoming established as an academic discipline in the United States, Nosow and Form published their celebrated and very large handbook on the sociology of occupations: Man, Work and Society. This substantial collection contained nearly 70 articles, had over 100 authors, and comprised more than 600 pages—amounting to a surprisingly detailed account of the organization of work in North America and other parts of the developed world. It combined a wide range of historical, theoretical, and substantive work: extracts from Tilgher's Homo Faber (1930) and Mannheim's Ideology and Utopia (1936) rub shoulders with C. W. Mills on the attitudes of progressive trade union leaders and W. A. Faunce on the response of automobile workers to automation in the late 1950s. Mannheim is now unread, and Tilgher's conspectus is a historical curiosity, but the pieces by Mills and Faunce and many others continue to be a valuable record of the organization of work current at the time they were made.

The emerging field of organizational behavior successfully claimed this broad heritage, but also claimed to be more focused, empirical, and practical than other social science disciplines. The applied nature of the new field is evident in Lawrence and Seilers's text, Organizational Behavior and Administration, in both its title and emphasis on case examples. But the emphasis on practical relevance in the field of organizational behavior was not ubiquitous. In the same year, Rand McNally embarked on its epic handbook series, which had more than a dozen titles covering all of the social sciences. The series included James March's (1976) Handbook of Organization, which brought together research on the structural aspects of organizations. In part, this handbook reflected the influence of what was then the relatively new approach of contingency theory in organization studies. Work in this tradition was generally characterized by quantitative, largely ahistorical, and data-driven efforts to determine conditions under which organizations' formal structure was more likely to exhibit certain abstract properties—formalization, centralization, complexity (or differentiation), and so forth. Size and technology (p. 4) were primary suspects as determinants of such variations in structure, though other candidates were also occasionally examined, including organizations' relationship to their environment. The influence of contingency theory was even more prominent in Nystrom and Starbuck's (1981) Handbook of Organizational Design, which comprised 2 volumes, 1,000 pages, and more than 40 articles written by 70 authors. Thus, more than twenty years ago, a relatively small corner of the field of organization studies could display an impressive array of work, much of it concerned with mapping the changing shape of organizations themselves.

In the handbook that March edited, however, there was still plenty of scope for the consideration of the role of specific historical conditions and political forces in shaping organizations. The volume included consideration of the effect of social and kinship ties on organizations; the relevance of social movements to organizational processes; the connections between the judiciary, law, and organization; and the importance of intergovernmental relations.

Although the field of organizational behavior continued to record what was happening in the world of organizations, there was little questioning of the fundamental nature or value of the knowledge gained in this subject area. For many, the subject had come of age and crystallized into orthodoxy. However, it is possible to exaggerate how far organizational behavior settled into an established pattern in North America. Mundane orthodoxy, characterized by a naïve realist approach and supposedly practical subject matter, coexisted with several vibrant centers of active research and intellectual questioning.

Thus, although formalistic versions of contingency theory appeared to be fast becoming orthodoxy in organizational research in the United States by the early 1970s, there was nevertheless evidence of vibrant, alternative intellectual approaches still alive in the discipline. A key illustration of this is provided by Dubin's (1976) Handbook of Work, Organization and Society. Like the handbook by Nosow and Form, it is broad in scope, including case studies of particular types of work settings, accounts of different kinds of organizational forms, and comparative international analysis. The volume also included an extended comparative section on the organization of work in different economic systems (considering Japan, Poland, Israel, and Yugoslavia).

This type of comparative work, as well as the emerging field of organization studies in Europe, began to challenge widely shared assumptions about the nature of work and organization found in the North American school of organizational behavior. From its beginning, the European version of organization studies had a strong bias towards the contribution of theory and a deep concern for conceptual novelty—establishing the possibility of analytical differences arising from the adoption of different perspectives. Sometimes defined as organization theory (OT) rather than organizational behavior, such writing had strong connections to European philosophy, particularly the phenomenological and existential branches of the discipline. These have been the basis of strong anti-positivist (p. 5) impulses in many areas of academic endeavor. They have mounted a very serious challenge to the objectivism implicit in much thinking and research in the organizational field.

Nevertheless, some research by European scholars fit well in North American traditions of organization studies. In these instances, Europeans enriched and deepened the capacity of the field to take stock of changes in organizations and their effect on society, even when they did not redirect the field onto an entirely new path. For example, European studies rooted in the work of Marx and Weber gave rise to a more critical kind of empirical study of organizations than often produced in North America. One example is the series of influential International Handbooks of Participation in Organizations, first produced under the imprint of John Wiley in the early 1980s, and later for Oxford University Press (see e.g. Lammers and Széll 1989; and Wilpert and Sorge 1984). Although focusing on a number of more specialist topics in work and organization, their mapping exercises were extraordinarily wide-ranging across national and sectoral boundaries.

Other than the previously referred to volume by Dubin, work and organization handbooks have been less prominent in sociology, despite the early emergence of a micro-level ‘plant sociology’ tradition, whose ‘special task was the study of social relations in work situations and to develop an understanding of the links between industrial systems and the wider society’ (Eldridge, MacInnes, and Cressey 1991: 202). The year of publication of the Dubin volume, 1976, marked a period of change in both texts and times. Many believed that industrial sociology had begun to fragment, in part because the dominant functionalist orthodoxy was in decline and unable to explain the new trends in economic life and the world of work (Hyman 1982). The emergence of Labor Process Theory (LPT), involving a return to propositions of Marx, gave rise to new theory and research on both sides of the Atlantic. As capitalism and work were changing, Labor Process Theory offered to industrial sociology analytical and empirical tools to maintain its historic interest in the connections between the workplace and wider social system.

Researchers in the labor process tradition have published nineteen edited volumes of articles, based on the International Labor Process Conference held each year in the United Kingdom. While not published in a handbook format, these volumes have covered a remarkably wide range of topics. Nonetheless, critics of the labor process approach, with some justification, criticized its research agenda for narrowly focusing on skill, control, and work design. One reaction to a volume, On Work, edited by Pahl, affirmed the centrality of work relations, but sought to expand its coverage within and outside the world of employment, ‘to show something of the contours of a restructured world of work’ (1988:1). In this volume of largely reprinted papers, Pahl expanded the scope of coverage by including a substantial historical and comparative dimension.

In the sheer diversity of research on different categories and levels of work and employment relations, the bigger picture can sometimes be lost in micro-level case (p. 6) studies or industry surveys whose causal chain ends at the factory gate. Industrial relations writers (Edwards 1992) have pushed for a broader scope of analysis, often referred to a ‘political economy approach’, as a signifier between workplace and national modes of labor regulation. Such a focus has been taken up in the expanding field of economic sociology. Smelser and Swedberg's handbook did an effective job of bringing together contributions that could, ‘assemble, codify, systematise, and thereby advance knowledge about one of the most critical arenas in the contemporary world—economy and society’ (1994: viii). Although ranging from the micro-economic to the macro-sociological, the handbook's main purpose was to carve out a legitimate intellectual territory distinct from economics, and it left areas of work and organization untouched.

Other approaches could have been used to make similar observations about locating work and organization in a broader theoretical and empirical context. One thinks, for example, of the contributions of European comparative institutional analysis or regulation theory. It is not so much that these approaches share the same basic episteme. But what all shared was a strong commitment to and concern with documenting observable, historically grounded patterns of structures and social relations that govern the workplace. This was certainly reflected in many of the classic handbooks described above.

Moving Away from Mapping Work and Organizational Change

Such attempts to grasp and describe concretely the nature of organizational reality have become much less prominent, to the point of disappearance, in some recent handbooks. The potential maps of work and organizations are just as interesting, if, arguably, also more complex. However, academics appear to be less interested in mapping exercises than in the past, or perhaps more accurately, the dominant notion of what constitutes a map has changed from description and analysis of structures and practices towards paradigmatic mapping.

Two significant influences on this trend can be identified. First, there has been a general shift in social theory away from a focus on economies and work organizations towards consumption and identity. This can be observed in the writings of leading theorists such as Beck (2000) and Gorz (1999) on the end of the ‘work society’, and Bauman's (1998: 24) emphasis on the move from a work ethic to the aesthetic of consumption—in which ‘people are groomed and trained to meet the (p. 7) demands of their social identities’ largely outside the realm of production. While contemporary social theorists take different positions on the extent of continuity with traditional industrial, capitalist societies, such trends are highly influenced by postmodernism, which peaked in most of the social sciences in the mid-1990s. This was manifested in what became known as the ‘cultural turn’—the argument that the reproduction of everyday life and the basis of domination had shifted from the material to the symbolic (Lash and Urry 1994).

An interesting recent example is Lawrence and Philips's (2002) analysis of the growing significance of cultural industries. This sounds as if it is a promising common ground between the cultural and economic spheres, but it is not. Lawrence and Philips argue that a cultural rationality has displaced economic rationality. Cultural products are valued for their meaning not their usefulness and are consumed in an act of interpretation. Cultural industries are, in turn, defined by their mode of consumption not production. They compete in the symbolic realm. In this context, ‘Managing in cultural industries is therefore not about efficiently producing a product but about creating and maintaining an organization that can produce and sell meaning’ (2002: 431). The problem is that by shifting the focus from production to consumption, Lawrence and Philips are excluding employees and the employment relationship from the framework of enquiry. Such analyses are unable to answer the question—what is industrial about cultural industries? As Reed (1996) argues, such writing is typical of a new form of cultural historicism in which the source of capitalist development is no longer political economy, but the management of values and engineering of the soul.

In some countries, notably Britain, the effects of this kind of shift on the sociology of work have been dramatic and deleterious. Industrial sociology has a long and distinguished history in Britain. Yet at the beginning of a new century, the situation does not look good. Few university departments have any expertise in the area, the bookshelves are full of studies of culture and consumption rather than production and work, and the British Sociological Association has not had work and employment as a theme for its annual conference since 1984. Admittedly, many sociologists in business schools are producing relevant work in the area, but this may be a generational and institutional peculiarity.

Second, an epistemological shift has occurred, particularly among social scientists who regard their approach as being defined by its ‘critical’ nature. What we see is a move from ontological to epistemological skepticism. In other words, rather than challenging the maps produced by their more orthodox colleagues, critical social scientists now define themselves by an adherence to different kinds of map making. This trend draws largely on the postmodernist attitude of radical skepticism towards the idea that there is an objective reality that is to some extent knowable. From this viewpoint, as we cannot adjudicate between ‘truth claims’, we are left with a focus on the social construction of perspectives and how they become influential and translated for action (Czarniawska 1999). Colville, (p. 8) Waterman, and Weick clearly articulate this approach: ‘Theory thus works by making sense of times and situations for readers and audiences but, because this always involves rhetoric, it is a matter of words, not worlds; of maps, not territories; and of representations not realities’ (1999:130). A further example comes from the Lawrence and Philips's article discussed above. They argue that as cultural industries are embedded more in texts than physical environments, literary criticism is a better source of understanding than traditional theories of management and organization. This may be something of an extreme argument, yet it is clear that a growing number of sociologists and business and management scholars spend far more time deconstructing texts, exploring discourses, and comparing paradigms than undertaking primary research into trends in work, employment, and organization.

Both of the above shifts are strongly represented in the field of organization and management studies. Organization studies was never a unified paradigm, and despite pleas from leading theorists (Pfeffer 1993), it is never likely to become one. However, whether organizational behavior was informed by psychology or sociology, prior generations of researchers viewed organizations and organizational behavior as subjects of research whose actual character and scale of inhluence could be established. Now, in Europe—and to a lesser extent the United States—the conviction that real trends in organizations can or should be studied has lost authority and come under direct challenge.

What this Handbook Seeks to Do That Others Do Not

Thus, rival attempts to sum up the conspectus of contemporary organization studies, such as the Handbook of Organization Studies (Clegg, Hardy, and Nord 1996), have had a different sort of focus from the traditional one. That volume too begins with the intention of providing a map to help navigate around organization studies, but what kind of map and what kind of studies? It is principally about the approaches to organizations that are held to be important. It records and summarizes the diversity of perspectives, accurately for the most part, though not definitively, and explores the epistemological development that has occurred in this new subject. Far less emphasis is placed on substantive claims about organizations as such, the way they behave and what they are truly like, though a preference for diverse approaches does not stop the editors from endorsing in advance the idea (p. 9) that new forms of postmodern, networked forms of organization are in the ascendant.

A more recent Handbook of Organization Theory is even more explicit about focusing on ‘meta-theoretical reflection on the historical development, present state, and future prospects of OT’ (Tsoukas and Knudsen 2003:1). Let us be quite clear, a desire to explore paradigmatic diversity and the status of organization theory as a social science can produce fruitful results. What we are questioning is the overall balance of interest and outcomes between meta-theoretical and paradigm debate and that of theory-led empirical research. It sometimes appears that commentators have become so paralyzed by the existence of organizational variation across time and space, and multiple rationalities, that any ‘stock-taking’ must of necessity embrace a sense of undecidability—concentrating on what we do not know rather than what we do. One of the problems underlying this trend is that in the paradigm wars, orthodoxy is presented not as a description of what the world looks like, but as a way of seeing. In other words, these researchers view positivism as hegemonic and as a prime problem for the development of knowledge. Even setting aside whether this is factually accurate, this tendency has created an unfortunate perception that empirical investigation into the real world necessarily entails a search for invariant laws, using particular quantitative research designs. As the editors of a recent valuable handbook in this area note, most research is conducted in the space between positivism and relativism, and is informed, explicitly or implicitly by some form of philosophical realism (Baum and Rowley 2002). That is certainly the case for most of the contributions to this volume, which leads us to what does this Handbook seek to do?

While recognizing that understanding work and organizations cannot be detached from the framework of assumptions that gives them meaning, we have created a handbook designed to sum up what is known of organizations across a range of key issues and areas. The methodological resources brought to the process of mapping are firmly pluralist—ranging from literature reviews and discourse analysis to primary empirical research. A similar point can be made about the theoretical resources represented in the Handbook, which include institutional, Weberian, labor process, and postmodern perspectives. All, we think, contribute to making sense of current change, however complex and multifaceted it may appear.

Taken as a whole, the contributions are also multileveled in their focus of analysis, from the micro to the macro. Chapters look across the organizational landscape and ask if it can be described and explained: from what is happening inside organizations to what is happening to occupations and on the boundaries between organizations and wider societal structures and processes. It is distinctive, not only for its comprehensive overview, but through an orientation towards factually grounded, theoretically informed accounts. Out of this diversity, we are able to highlight a series of fundamental changes that are occurring in the nature of work, employment, and organizations.

(p. 10) Organizational Restructuring in the Current Era

We take the view that work organizations, especially those that make up the developed economies, are passing through changes of significant magnitude and that compared to previous periods of decisive change, contemporary developments are less localized and more global. Of central interest in this Handbook are the interactions between social structures—such as models of capitalism—and the work, employment, and decision-making relations found in organizations. Part I begins at the workplace level; chapters focus on the changing nature of work, technology, and the division of labor. Part II puts into perspective the changes at work by analyzing alternative systems of management control and worker resistance to change. Part III considers a similar set of themes, but viewed through the lens of occupational groups—from blue-collar workers and low-wage service workers to professional and knowledge workers. Part IV places the work-place and diverse occupational groups in the context of the changing organizational and international environment. Each Part begins with an editorial introduction that outlines the distinctive contributions of the individual chapters within the context of broader intellectual debates.

So what insights and understandings into the nature of current economic and social organization does this Handbook provide? In general, the chapter authors address three issues that are fundamental to studies of work and organizations. First, what are the trends that characterize contemporary organizations and economic systems, and what are the sources of these trends? What kinds of changes are taking place in the dominant logics that govern organizations, and in the set and form of interorganizational relations? Second, how have these changes in organizations and economic systems registered in the workplace? How have they affected hierarchical relations, strategies of coordination and control, and the day-to-day experience of working? And finally, how are broad economic, organizational, and workplace trends related to changes and problems in other aspects of social life: the welfare and organization of family life, patterns of gender and racial segregation, economic inequality and social class relations, the capacity for individual and collective forms of resistance, and the evolution of institutions and government policies?

In terms of the first issue, several analyses provide testimony to the crucial changes that are taking place in what might be referred to as the demography of economic organizations (see chapters by Procter, G. Thompson, and Alvesson and P. Thompson). Increasingly, contemporary economies are characterized by giant multinationals, on one hand, and by relatively small organizations, which are often tightly networked to each other and to the multinationals, on the other. Thus, the (p. 11) relations between organizations that compose different strata, as well as relations within the strata, provide a critical context that must be taken into account in understanding and explaining organizational outcomes and activities.

One key focus for further exploration, in this regard, is a trend in many organizations towards the increasing use of more technologically based control strategies, as described in chapters by McKinlay, Crouch, Badham, and Alvesson and Thompson. This trend has been amplified by the pressures of global competition (see chapters by Hinings, Katz, Kunda and Ailon-Souday, and Smith) which, because of the increasing density of interorganizational networks, affect not only large multinationals, but many smaller, seemingly local organizations as well. Such pressures have contributed to increases in the rate of cross-national diffusion of ideas and practices across organizations (as documented in chapters by Strang and Kim, Graham, and Legge). A critical element of this diffusion is the spread of a particular organizational logic, or social action justification, often labeled as ‘shareholder value’. This is described in some detail in chapters by Kunda and Ailon-Souday, and Lazonick, and its extension to the public sector in Hebdon and Kirkpatrick's chapter. However, evidence also suggests that pressures towards convergence, created by globalization, are still somewhat checked and filtered by regional and national institutions. This has resulted in the curious trend toward increasing similarity of organizational arrangements across countries and greater variation of arrangements within countries (see Katz's analysis).

Thus, the portrait of contemporary economies that emerges from these chapters is one characterized by dense organizational networks that stretch across the boundaries of nation-states and that importantly shape both public- and private-sector organizations through ideological as well as competitive processes, despite the countervailing pressures of varying local and national customs and institutions.

How have these broader transformations in economies and organizations played out on a more local level, in the workplace? We can identify crucial shifts in both work relations and employment systems. These involve the mobilization of greater discretionary effort and range of skills of workers, accompanied by a move from traditional job structures and a standard employment contract to those featuring flatter hierarchies, teamworking, and nonstandard employment contracts (see chapters by Rubery, Batt, Katz, and Osterman and Burton). At the workplace level, globalization, deregulation of product markets, and the intensification of shareholder-driven organizations have meant heightened employment and income insecurity for working people across all advanced economies.

Produced in part by the interrelated forces of global competition and international diffusion of organizational arrangements, these new work and employment relations are often marked by a sort of schizophrenia, in terms of logic and underlying values. For example, employers make use of cooperative, commitment-enhancing practices such as teams, and at the same time, take actions that loosen (p. 12) employer–employee ties, such as reductions in employer-provided training and increased use of outsourcing, downsizing, and contingent staffing and pay (as noted in chapters by Rubery, Crouch, Batt, Legge, Osterman and Burton, and Graham). Managers exhort workers to be more self-sufficient and ready to ‘pack their own parachute’, even while managerialism—strategies that exert increasing control over workers in an endless quest for higher productivity—is on the rise. Even technical and professional workers, hired to use their expertise and independent judgment, are increasingly subject to electronic monitoring, work routinization, and intense pressure to meet short-term quotas.

Researchers have observed these contradictory employment practices across the range of occupations, from traditional blue-collar workers (Graham) and low-wage service workers (Frenkel) to high-skilled technical (Barley), professional (Hinings), and knowledge workers (McKinlay). These trends have been accompanied by rising dissatisfaction among working people in most advanced economies over work intensification, longer hours, and job insecurity, as examined in the chapter by Kelly. Moreover, an unexpected outcome of shareholder-driven corporate strategies is the alienation of even operational and middle-level managers from top management—suggesting the emergence of a new class divide, as discussed by Kunda and Ailon-Souday and Lazonick.

The contradictions at work create dilemmas for individuals and the institutions and policies designed to support social and economic welfare—the third central theme addressed in this Handbook. One manifestation of these contradictions—the polarization in the demand for skill—has put enormous pressures on skill formation systems. Advanced information technologies and competitive strategies have simultaneously increased the demand for highly skilled technical and knowledge workers (Barley and McKinlay) and for low-skilled service work (Frenkel). But as Crouch discusses in his chapter, these forces have also created high levels of uncertainty in demand and no real understanding or ability to forecast what specific skill sets are needed. As a result of these trends, exacerbated by previously identified moves towards more fragmented employment systems, employers are unwilling to invest in skills, while public education and training systems are ill-equipped to respond to uncertainty. Thus, individuals are left to absorb the risks of investment in training that may not pay off.

The polarization in skills has also contributed to the rise in economic and social inequality. However, the new inequality is not simply the result of skill-biased technical change, as often portrayed in the economic literature. As McCall's chapter shows, organizational restructuring has intersected with gender and race discrimination to create new configurations of inequality—not only between but among social groups—among men, among women, and among ethnic and racial minorities. Similar to the example of education and training systems, our antidiscrimination policies designed to reduce inequality based on gender and race are not adequate to address these new configurations of inequality.

(p. 13)

The demand-side changes in the economy, coupled with the supply-side changes in labor markets, have produced additional contradictions and dilemmas for working families. As employers have restructured work and reduced wage and employment security, women have entered the labor market to pursue their own careers as well as to make up for lost family income. The combined restructuring of work and household labor has led to a shift in household structures and gender relations—from a male-breadwinner/female-caregiver division of labor to a dual-earner/dual-caregiver model. Several chapters highlight the failure of social institutions to respond to these new economic challenges that working people face.

This institutional lag has left individuals on their own to craft makeshift solutions. Chapters by Rubery and Appelbaum and colleagues, for example, describe how families have absorbed the costs of corporate restructuring; and conflicts between work and family or work and personal life have become a salient pattern in the fabric of everyday life. While the structure of family institutions and social welfare systems in some countries are more supportive than in others, in all countries these institutions have lagged behind the actual changes taking place. And while some private employers have developed work/family policies, these tend to cover only a minority of workers, and typically only high-skilled technical and professional employees.

Despite this deterioration in wages, working conditions, and employment security for the majority of the working population, the potential for resistance may be limited, given the decline in union power and membership. Several chapters in this Handbook, however, point to the growth of alternative forms of resistance such as sabotage, humor, and whistleblowing (Collinson and Ackroyd); to the ‘fertile grounds’ for employee resistance emerging from worker cynicism towards management rhetoric and new work practices (Kelly, Graham); and to the re-emergence of tri-partite labor, management, and government dialogue that has moved beyond wages to focus on broader issues such as working time, labor flexibility, and social reforms (Katz).

The debates and unresolved dilemmas arising from organizational restructuring at the end of the twentieth century provide rich ground for future research. While they indicate how and why organizational restructuring has occurred in general, they point to large areas of social research that are undeveloped—particularly those at the boundaries of disciplines or that require interdisciplinary research to produce new knowledge and meaningful public policy solutions. Such research projects might address the intersection of work, family, and social policy; the intersection of gender, race, and class in organizational restructuring; or the feasibility of alternative political strategies for economic and social reform. Thus, our research needs to investigate a broader array of institutions that intersect with the world of work—not only labor market institutions, but gender and family institutions, immigration policies, and social welfare and security policies.

(p. 14)

The chapters in this Handbook point to greater levels than in the past of complexity in social and political processes within and across organizational networks. They seek to develop ways of understanding connections and patterns without shoehorning trends into over-extended and frequently over-optimistic conceptions such as post-Fordism and informational society. While they offer important new insights, future research undoubtedly needs to develop more sophisticated methodologies that allow us to move beyond single units of analysis and to understand organizations at multiple levels—building theory across individuals and work groups, establishments, firms, and institutions—in order to inform public policy.

Finally, our understanding of the processes of globalization is at a very early stage. There is much need for more sophisticated cross-national research that moves beyond country-by-country comparisons and uses the same methodologies and tools to examine the same phenomenon of industrial and occupational change. Comparative international studies of work organization in service activities would be particularly valuable because the historic role of unions and other institutions that have influenced manufacturing may be lacking in many service settings. More studies examining the same multinational corporations operating in distinct national contexts would contribute much to our understanding of the relative importance of institutions and employer strategies in shaping the organization of work and related outcomes. There is also a need for more coordinated international research that compares work restructuring in advanced and industrializing economies. In sum, the chapters in this Handbook contribute to understanding what changes have occurred while also identifying the central questions that remain to be tackled.


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