Thinking about Decent Work in Capitalism in Terms of a 'concrete Utopia'

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Carina ALTREITER, Department of Sociology, University of Vienna, Austria
Meinrad ZIEGLER, Department of Sociology, JKU Linz, Austria
Approaching Utopia can either be done in the way Thomas Morus (1516) did, who developed an alternative model of society based on fantasy, or, on the contrary, by following Theodor W. Adorno (1951), who pleads for extracting ideas and notions for utopian projects out of untapped potentials which can be found in the history of societies. The proposed presentation draws on Adorno to discuss criteria for decent work by reading the contemporary history of capitalism against the grain. It is referring to three key aspects of decent work. First, there is the integrative function of work, which bonds people to reality and also gives them social identity and status (Jahoda 1966). Second, workers are not to be seen only as labour power but as citizens with manifold needs and responsibilities. Work, therefore, has to be organised in a way that allows combining different spheres of life. Third, decent work is about conferring dignity to employees who are doing their job under conditions of asymmetrical power relations (Sennett 2000). 

Arguments will be unfolded by taking data from a sociological-ethnographic study (2009-2012) in one of the tobacco plants of the former state-owned monopolist Austria Tabak in Austria. Until 1999 Austria Tabak was under majority public ownership and practised something Robert Castel refers to as ‘social economy’ (2008, 224f.). Relations between employees and management were not reduced to strict economic logic. They were framed by a collaborative social order (Kotthoff/Reindl 1990) in which aspects of decent work were widely implemented.

In our presentation we are going to discuss what might be gained in taking this case study as significant piece of historical reality and take it as starting point to develop a ‘concrete utopia' of decent work for modern societies.