Scholars of work and labor do not often analyze labor coercion these days. It is considered a bit passé, and is simply taken as a given that economic coercion undergirds labor relations in capitalist economies. With this implicit foundation in place, the primary story of work and labor in contemporary scholarship is one of precarity: the instability, insecurity, and low wages of gig work, temp work, freelancing, day labor, adjunct work, just-in-time work, and more.
But precarity does not characterize the work lives of all workers, and economic coercion is not the only power dynamic that shapes labor relations. In my new book Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment, I identify a different form of labor coercion, one in which employers’ power does not stem from their control over workers’ wages (e.g., through their ability to hire, fire, promote, and demote workers). Rather, it stems from their control over workers’ “status” and all of the rights, privileges, and opportunities—economic and otherwise—that such status confers.
The financial crisis of 2008, along with the Great Recession it triggered, has defined the course of the 21st century. Yet, despite the political agitation and economic hardship that ensued, everything appears to be back to the right track. The major stock market indices have reached new highs: In November, the Dow Jones surpassed 28,000 for the first time in history. US household debt just broke the $14 trillion mark. In the era of Dodd-Frank, the financial sector seems more regulated and stable. Compared to the turmoil in the political sphere, the US economy appears to be smooth sailing.
But what does this “right track” mean?
Our new book, Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance, shows that the most damaging consequence of the contemporary financial system is not simply recurrent financial crises but the social divide it has generated between the haves and have-nots over the past 40 years.
It is well known that earnings inequality has been rising in the US and many other countries over the last forty years. What is less well known, is that the great rise in contemporary earnings inequalities is propelled to a large extent by between-workplace wage polarization, whereby some organizations accumulate large resource bases while others fight over the crumbs.
processes have been described as being propelled by “macro” forces: the financialization
of production encouraging externalization, physical and social technologies of
surveillance that enable between firm control of production, skill-biased
technological change, and market fundamentalism
in public policy that permit unfettered firm practices.
trends are always products of a set of meso-level organizational decisions. It
was not disembodied “technology” or “markets” that generated the growth in
inequality, but social movements promoting the interests of shareholders over
other stakeholders, neoliberal policy orientations in the state, and union-busting
consultants that drove these shifts.
In many professional workplaces,
mindfulness has become a seeming panacea. Its proponents argue that it will not
only help workers de-stress and improve their health, but become more
self-aware and self-actualized both in and outside of work. The argument goes
that, by helping develop happy, healthy, and therefore more productive
employees, the large companies, schools, public agencies, and other
organizations will benefit.
Mindfulness meditation includes a wide-ranging
set of contemplative practices aimed at training oneself to pay “attention in a
particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally,” as
defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the
Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society. Mindfulness has
been developed and differentiated in the course of being marketed by its
proponents to a variety of organizations, from Ivy League universities to
Fortune 100 businesses.
Have you ever wondered how some men and women muster the courage to pursue careers in rock music, despite the fact that so few of them will actually “make it”? Or have you questioned why some individuals would intentionally choose a path that will undoubtedly be filled with struggle, miniscule economic payoff, and a slim chance of success?
Sure, once musicians get to the level of fame of R.E.M., Nirvana, or The White Stripes, it all seems worth it. But what about the countless other musicians who don’t attain such levels of success? Why would they commit to such seemingly irrational choices? In my new book, I attempt to answer these and a host of related sociological questions. Continue Reading…
A few years ago this blog ran a panel on ‘The future of organizational sociology’. In this panel renowned organizational scholars discussed the current position of organizational sociology as a field of research at a time when a large amount of organizational theory and research was developed and conducted at business schools. They argued that the future of the field could only be ensured if there were a continued discussion between sociologists based within these very different kinds of institution.
Related debates on the future of organizational sociology and the direction of its development were published in the mid-1980s, for example by Robert Dingwall and Phil Strong and more recently by Patrick McGinty. These authors discussed the long-standing concern of interactionist research with organizations, the ‘negotiated order’ and with the ‘organizing of social life’. They looked for reasons for the neglect of this body of studies by those who, over the past 40 years or so, have developed organizational sociology in departments of sociology and in business schools.
Dingwall, Strong and McGinty argue that for a long time organizational sociology has been preoccupied with formal organizations and with the generation of concepts to aid its study, but that organizational sociologists have followed this interest at the expense of studying the contingencies and complexities of social actions that bring about organizational practices. In contrast to this, they point to the important contribution that interactionism has made to organizational sociology in its study of society as local practice (occurring in specific contexts) and situated practice (tied to specific instances of interaction).
Our book Institutions, Interaction and Social Theory follows on from these arguments by exploring in detail the connection between institutional scholarship and ‘interactionist’ research.
Pay is a persistent problem from many in the labor market and for many women’s lives. A wide range of perspectives have explored this problem. The human capital approach of mainstream economics emphasizes individual differences between men and women in education, skills and job experience in explaining the pay gap. These differences are explained by women’s childcare and domestic duties which result in labor force interruptions.
The occupational segregation approach of sociology, on the other hand, focuses on occupational characteristics and explains women’s lower pay through differences in their occupations, positions and sectors.
No matter how they approach the pay gap, almost every study on the pay gap has one thing in common: they focus on the adult labor force. However, in the United States, most teenagers work sometime throughout high school. Therefore, work experience and potentially the wage gap start long before the completion of education.
In recent research I have examined the teenage work force. By focusing on this group, I include a previously neglected yet substantial portion of our workforce. More importantly, focusing on early work experiences is like a social laboratory where many typical explanations of the wage gap: motherhood, childcare, housework are simply not applicable.