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date: 01 December 2020


Abstract and Keywords

This part of the book examines contemporary economic and organizational changes, but from a somewhat different vantage point — that of occupations. Shared occupational identities provide a foundation for the recognition of common economic interests. Consequently, occupational membership can serve as an important basis for collective action that is aimed at defining both material and social relationships within organizations. Such action may be directly focused on employing organizations, targeted at enhancing occupational members' control of work and setting terms of exchange. Alternatively, collective action may focus on the broader political economy, seeking to secure the interests of occupational members by persuading the public that members have unique, specialized knowledge that is needed to carry out certain tasks. Such recognition provides the basis for the creation of licensing and other market closure arrangements that may broadly affect the economic situation of an occupational group.

Keywords: shared occupational identities, economic interests, occupational membership, social relationships, political economy

The chapters in this Part examine contemporary economic and organizational changes that are analyzed in other Parts of this book, but from a somewhat different vantage point—that of occupations. Shared occupational identities provide a foundation for the recognition of common economic interests (Weber 1968; Weeden 2002). Consequently, occupational membership can serve as an important basis for collective action that is aimed at defining both material and social relationships within organizations (Berlant 1975; Larson 1977; Weber 1968).

Such action may be directly focused on employing organizations, targeted at enhancing occupational members’ control of work and setting terms of exchange. This typically takes the form of unionism, although it can also involve less formal arrangements, such as the formation of committees within organizations that are intended to address specific organizational issues raised by occupational members. Alternatively, collective action may focus on the broader political economy, seeking to secure the interests of occupational members by persuading the public that members have unique, specialized knowledge that is needed to carry out certain tasks. Such recognition provides the basis for the creation of licensing and other market closure arrangements that may affect the supply of individuals available to carry out certain kinds of work, and thus broadly affect the economic situation of an occupational group (Abbott 1988; Berlant 1975; Larson 1977; Leicht and Fennell 2001; Weeden 2002).

The latter form of collective action also may shape occupational members’ social relations and work arrangements within organizations by providing the underpinning for what Freidson (1994) refers to as the ‘occupational principle’, a logic that may govern relations within organizations, and which he contrasts with the ‘administrative principle’. Although both logics are consistent with rational legal authority (Ritzer 1973; Satow 1975), they are not completely compatible with each other (Gouldner 1973; Scott et al. 2000); the dominance of one or the other principle in work organizations is significantly related to how much power and authority individuals have in their daily relationships based on their occupational membership. As a way of setting the chapters of this Part in context, it is useful to consider these two principles in more detail.

(p. 330) Occupational vs. Administrative Principles of Organization

Following the administrative principle, decisions about the organization of work and execution of work tasks are vested in organizational agents based on their hierarchical position. This principle is, of course, a core element in Weber's (1968) depiction of the modern form of organization, the ideal type of bureaucracy. In this context, authority rests on the implicit assumption that the attainment of higher level positions is correlated with knowledge of organizational requirements, resources, and constraints. Thus, individuals at higher hierarchical levels presumably have greater knowledge of organizational needs and capabilities and this knowledge allows them to make efficient and effective (and ergo, legitimate) organizational decisions.

In contrast, according to the occupational principle, decisions about the appropriate bases and form of the division of labor, how to carry out work tasks, and how to evaluate work outcomes are left primarily, if not entirely, in the hands of members of a designated occupational group. Authority, in this context, is based on social and legal recognition of members’ unique, specialized knowledge in some substantive area of application, knowledge that is deemed necessary for the effective execution of certain types of tasks (Abbott 1988). Thus, authority rests on the assumptions that only individuals with detailed knowledge of the means and ends relations involved in particular work processes are able to respond to situational requirements of work appropriately, and that such knowledge generally requires membership in a particular occupational group. By token of the latter, organizational agents who are not occupational members are assumed not to possess requisite knowledge needed to make all organizational decisions. Consequently, following this principle entails organizational administrators’ concession of relatively greater control to employees, not only over their own work, but over the work of their colleagues, i.e. of supervisory responsibility (Freidson 1986:134 et passim).

The Occupational Principle and Contemporary Organizations

We usually identify such authority with those occupations that have been assigned the honorific title of ‘professions’, but it is also often invoked in other occupations whose professional status is more questionable—e.g. those that are characterized as creative (musicians, artists, actors, etc.), as well as those that are regarded as highly technical (computer programmers and analysts, data managers, various types of technicians, etc.). Indeed, prior to the advent of scientific management techniques, the occupational principle was also operative in many traditional blue-collar occupations (Braverman 1998). Even today, more recent managerial efforts to collect and (p. 331) codify tacit knowledge held by blue-collar workers, through ‘quality circles’, ‘continuous improvement programs’, and similar arrangements, attest to the lurking presence of this principle in these occupations (Graham 1995). Thus, the occupational principle has historically been an important force in shaping work relations within organizations, though to varying degrees and in varying forms across occupational groups. So how does this principle fare in various occupations today? Other chapters in this Handbook analyze core changes that have taken place in many national economies and organizations over the last quarter century or so. These include broad economic changes, particularly the increases in international competition among business firms that are associated with rapid globalization—i.e. the spread and relocation of production centers across the world and the accompanying creation of worldwide labor markets for many organizations and occupations (see Smith's chapter in Part IV). Changes in work technologies have occurred in tandem with such economic changes: advances in computer-based production technologies have resulted in progressive declines in labor intensity in many organizations, along with increased speed and quality in production; and advances in communication technologies have enabled the coordination of geographically far-flung work sites (see Rubery's chapter in Part I). Concomitantly, common organizational changes have often resulted from pressures for greater efficiency and the diffusion of employment arrangements that are assumed to enhance efficiency and quality (see Strang and Kim's chapter in Part II). These changes have affected different occupations somewhat differently and through different mechanisms.

Overview of Chapters

We begin by considering the impact of these forces on traditional blue-collar occupations. This category spans a wide range of workers, from skilled mechanics and craftsmen to relatively low-skilled mining and construction laborers; but at least since the turn of the century, machine operators and assemblers in factories have served as the prototype of this group. By the mid-twentieth century, a third to nearly a half of all employees in most industrialized economies fell into this occupational category (International Labour Office 1990), but partly as a consequence of technological changes, the relative size of the occupational group has declined steadily throughout the second half of the century. With the notable exception of Japan, in most of the countries where this occupational group once dominated, today less than a quarter of workers fall within this category (International Labour Office 2002).

As Laurie Graham notes in her chapter on production-level, manufacturing employees, the occupational principle, based on workers' tacit knowledge of (p. 332) manufacturing work processes, was severely undercut in the first part of the twentieth century through the application of scientific management techniques. In the wake of its decline, industrial unions emerged, driven by the economic downturns of the 1930s and increasing labor unrest, to protect workers from complete hierarchical domination. Such protection entailed, in part, matching the codification of worker knowledge with the codification of work rules that bounded management's exercise of discretion.

Graham's analysis documents the way in which recent changes that have taken place in many organizations, partly as a consequence of globalization and technological forces, have undercut unions’ ability to moderate administrative control. These changes, which Graham refers to as Japanese Manufacturing System Management (because they reflect many Western countries’ efforts to emulate Japan's economic success in the 1970s and 1980s by adopting common organizational arrangements), have led to a sharp decline in the implementation of structures that traditionally provided the basis for unions’ control over work: delimited and well-defined job classifications, use of seniority as a criterion for career advancement, and contractually specified rules concerning the posting of job openings, overtime arrangements, and use of grievances procedures to handle worker/management disputes. Thus, in this case, although the impact of the decline of the occupational principle on workers’ control of work was temporarily stayed by the emergence of unions in the mid-twentieth century, the weakening of unions’ power at the end of this century has allowed the logic of the administrative principle to fully dominate. In theory, the contraction in the ranks of lower-level managerial and supervisory employees produced by restructuring and re-engineering activities (see Kunda and Ailon-Souday's chapter in Part II) and the rise of team-based designs in many organizations in the last two decades might be expected to provide a basis for more effective collective action by members of these occupations (see Batt and Doellgast's chapter in Part I). One could imagine how these changes might permit workers to accumulate new, non-managerially controlled knowledge of production processes, and thus serve as a source of occupationally grounded power. However, Graham notes that, although workers have resisted the diminution of the power associated with JSMS both individually and collectively, such efforts have so far been limited and not systematic, and for now, the prospects for workers’ ability to resist further dimunition appear dim.

In the next chapter, we turn to an occupational group that has sometimes been referred to as the ‘new blue collar’, service workers. Stephen Frenkel argues that as a group, they are distinguished from the traditional blue-collar occupations that Graham analyzes by virtue of their production output: namely, services involving assistance, advising, and/or care to individuals or representatives of organizations. On the other hand, he also differentiates them from what are sometimes referred to as ‘knowledge workers’—the technical workers discussed in the chapter by Barley and professional workers as analyzed in Hinings's chapter—by the relatively limited (p. 333) range of knowledge and skills required for production. Again, however, this category encompasses a rather broad range of occupational subcategories that vary considerably in required skills and in their potential for the application of the occupational principle.

This is reflected in the variations in management strategies used with these workers. Frenkel describes two key forms, which he refers to as the mass services model, characterized by highly routinized work, low wages, and unstable work arrangements, and the mass customized model, characterized by relatively broadly defined jobs, higher wages, and greater work stability. McDonald's and other fastfood restaurants offer a prototype of the former strategy, while call centers often are taken as typifying the latter. The mass customized model, which involves a greater delegation of decision-making responsibilities to individual workers, is more compatible with the occupational principle. However, there is limited evidence of the development of occupational identities and/or collective organization and action among service workers, even those in jobs characterized by mass customization, as yet.

Frenkel's analysis suggests a complex of factors involved in this, ranging from worker demographics (high proportions of younger workers and/or immigrants) to employer demographics (high proportions of small and marginal businesses) to the nature of the work itself (the ability to attribute work dissatisfaction to customers/clients rather than the employment situation). In this context, it is notable that a large proportion of service workers are female. Various studies have provided evidence that female-dominated jobs are less likely to receive societal recognition of the skills and knowledge that are required of workers, compared to similar, male-dominated jobs (Steinberg 1990). This may undercut the development of occupational identities even among service workers whose jobs are relatively more skilled. In addition, traditional wisdom also suggests that women are more difficult for unions to organize, although whether this is in fact a reflection of unions’ investments in organizing female workers or women's own resistance to unionization is subject to debate. Teaching and nursing, however, as two prominent, female-dominated occupations that have become progressively unionized over time may contribute to a shift in older gender distinctions in unionization, and this may, in the long run, have implications for occupationally based efforts to assert greater workplace control by service workers. As with the traditional manufacturing line-workers described by Graham, though, at present the administrative principle appears to be firmly in place as the dominant logic governing the organization of work for this occupational group.

The following chapter by Stephen Barley considers a category of workers in which we might expect the occupational principle to predominate, those occupations whose members are now sometimes fashionably referred to as ‘knowledge workers’: engineers, scientists, and affiliated technicians. Unfortunately, as his analysis suggests, the various theoretical lenses worn by those who have studied (p. 334) such occupations have made it difficult to assess the empirical validity of this expectation. He begins by chronicling a number of views of technical occupations that have been offered by different theorists over time: oppressed workers desiring the sort of autonomy associated with the occupational principle, but suffering the shackles of the administrative principle in their work; victims of inexorable, crossoccupational pressures by capitalists to reduce labor costs and limit workers' power through ‘de-skilling’; beneficiaries and willing accomplices of capital in the development of de-skilling processes for other workers; and so on. Along the way, he documents how various empirical studies failed to validate the theoretical imagery holding sway at a particular point in time, and thus led to the rise of alternative theoretical images, which in turn were called into question by still other evidence from studies of technical workers. Despite the evolution of theories and evidence, he argues that, overall, we in fact have relatively little knowledge of whether and to what extent technical workers seek and are able to exercise occupationally based control over their work. Just as Frenkel's work emphasizes the high degree of differentiation among service workers, the contemporary comparative studies that Barley describes suggest that the importance of the occupational principle as a governing logic depends on a variety of factors, including the level of development of an industry, specific occupational segments or areas of specialization, the culture of employing organizations, as well as national definitions of the status of technical work.

In the following chapter, Bob Hinings considers the work organizations of yet another occupational group, those referred to as ‘professions’. The effort to clearly define the boundaries between professions and other occupational groups has largely been abandoned (despite hard pursuit in much work in the latter half of the twentieth century). Instead, contemporary research typically reflects the rather broad definition offered by Abbott (1988: 9), who defines professions as ‘exclusive occupational groups applying somewhat abstract knowledge to particular cases’. Following this definition, the classification of an occupation as a profession depends on the degree to which members are able to exercise control over how to conduct particular tasks and the evaluation of their outcomes; this is based on social acceptance of the relevance of their specialized and esoteric knowledge—i.e. on the application of the occupational principle in their work organizations. Hinings's analysis of the prototypical form of professionals’ work organization, what he refers to as the P2 (professional partnership) form, suggests that the logic of this principle has indeed traditionally predominated in many occupations we think of as professions—law, accounting, medicine, etc.

However, his analysis also identifies a competing form that has gained prominence in many professions over the last thirty years or so, one that has been labeled the managed professional business (MPB). In this form, the logic of the administrative principle plays a more dominant role: decisions about which jobs should be undertaken, what procedures are most appropriate, and what criteria are to be used (p. 335) in evaluating work outcomes are increasingly vested in a subset of organizational members on the basis of their organizational, hierarchically determined expertise, rather than on occupationally based criteria.

Hinings identifies a variety of factors that have contributed to the development of the MPB form, including: the growth in the business services market, which has led to increased interprofessional competition for this market; developments in technology which have contributed to both the routinization of some professional tasks; the ability of clients to access information once confined to members of a particular occupation; and globalization, which has led client organizations to demand a simultaneous increase in the breadth and speed of delivery of professional services. In short, this analysis suggests that even in the work organizations that we might expect to be a bastion of the occupational principle, the administrative principle is gaining ground. However, like the authors of other chapters, Hinings also underscores the importance of considering intra-occupational differences, by occupational segment and by organization, in understanding the logics that govern work organizations. This is an avenue for future research that merits considerably more attention, and the sort of close, detailed analyses of social relations in practice that Barley advocates in his chapter.

In the final chapter, Paul Osterman and Diane Burton focus attention on recent shifts in within-organization career patterns, changes that shed additional light on the blue-collar occupations analyzed by Graham, as well as on an occupational group not yet considered, managers and administrators. Although ‘blue collar’ and ‘white collar’ have often been treated as occupational antonyms, these two groups traditionally have shared at least one key occupational feature, careers built around internal labor markets, or a common pattern of structured, upward job moves within an employing organization. While the operation of internal labor markets is typically more explicit and formalized in blue-collar occupations (due to unions' influence, as Graham's chapter suggests), research suggests that their operation is—or was—equally important to the careers of many managerial employees.

In this context, Osterman and Burton's chapter examines evidence of the alleged demise of internal labor markets and the implications of such for understanding contemporary careers. Their careful analysis of different pieces of evidence provides some support for the contention that internal labor markets have declined overall in the last three decades, though perhaps less dramatically than some analysts have suggested; it also suggests that the impact of this decline has fallen largely on one demographic group of workers, middle-aged men. However, the increased use of outsourcing arrangements and temporary workers, which can be viewed as a related aspect of declines in internal labor markets, affects a much broader segment of workers. Likewise, changes in compensation patterns—greater use of pay-forperformance arrangements and a higher proportion of variable pay in total compensation—that are also consistent with the declining influence of internal labor markets have wide-ranging impacts. Taken altogether, the evidence that Osterman (p. 336) and Burton present suggests a gradual, but significant shift in standard employment structures, and in particular, a decline in arrangements that promoted longterm employer–employee relationships.


As a set, the chapters in Part III illuminate some of the impacts of changes in organizations and labor markets suggested by chapters in other Parts of the book, and some of the contradictions in contemporary changes in the workplace. They suggest, on one hand, the increasing prominence and prevalence of the administrative principle as a governing logic—the trumping of occupational, worker-based control of work by hierarchical control—even in occupations that have traditionally been dominated by the occupational principle.

On the other, they also suggest a weakening of the incentives organizations have traditionally used to induce compliance with the administrative principle: fewer, less assured opportunities for continuing employment and upward mobility within a given employer. Declining internal labor markets and greater reliance on shortterm employment relations might seem likely to lead to stronger occupational identities, as occupational networks become more important determinants of career patterns (Tolbert 1996). In the current environment of global competition, this would seem to require the formation of much stronger, cross-national occupational groups, and it is not clear whether there is any movement in that direction. But insofar as occupations do represent an important potential source of resistance to increasing administrative domination, understanding the nature of occupations could well become important for understanding how changes in global markets, work and communication technologies, and gender and family roles play out in the evolution of employment arrangements and organizational designs.


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