Sociology of labour takes a sociological approach to all labour-related phenomena within a globalising economy. Sociologists of labour are concerned with labour, and how it is organised and perceived. The essential premise of research in this area is that the specific manner in which society organises labour provides a fundamental explanatory concept for the social structure and for societal change in general, as well as for social inequalities and collective conflictual action in particular. Hence, sociology of labour is one of the most important sociological subdisciplines.
At the start of the 21st century, the labour system is undergoing momentous change: new technologies (such as ICT) and new organisational forms are affecting the manner in which we work in the context of a globalising economy (‘The world is flat’) and a warming climate. Industrial relations are becoming more flexible, the rising female participation rate is resulting in a more problematic balance between work and the private sphere, work performance standards are becoming stricter and conditions of labour are being determined at an increasingly decentralised level. This course considers the changes that have unfolded in relation to the contingencies of labour and the (local/global) economy, work ethics, the organisation of labour (production, services), and the labour markets and (organised) industrial relations, from the perspective of the sociology of labour.
Industrial relations take shape in three interrelated societal arenas:
(1) The labour market is where suppliers and demanders of labour meet one another (locally, globally). Here, the primary concerns are who ends up where (allocation, with ‘winners’ and ‘losers') and the remuneration of labour.
(2) In the arena of the organisation of labour, employer and employee are connected through a system of labour division and hierarchical coordination. Here, the main question is how the available workforce is deployed in concrete situations and performances with a view to attaining the goals of the organisation. This gives rise to the issue of quality of labour (attractiveness of jobs or careers, absenteeism, stress, opportunities for learning etc.).
(3) Finally, in the arena of collective bargaining and consultation, employers’ and employees’ organisations strive to regulate the processes that unfold in the labour market and within organisations.
The course deals extensively with evolutions in these three arenas and their consequences for industrial relations.