Decent Work: A Challenge for a Global Sociology of Labor

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal 5A G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Francesco LARUFFA, Humboldt University, Germany
Hannah SCHILLING, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technische Universitaet Berlin, Germany
We witness a global restructuring of the meaning of labor as activity that organizes social stratification (class) and access to social rights. Coined with the term of precarization, these changes can be globally described as shifting relations of production, distribution and representation (Standing 2014). In particular, the amount of non-remunerated work increases and social policies are more and more based on market principles (ibid.).

Most of the academic writing separates between industrialized democracies and the developing world, creating two discourses that don’t speak to each other. Our article instead bridges these “two worlds”, by bringing into dialogue the European and the African contexts, thus contributing to a global sociology of labor.

In order to do so, we first argue that the narrow definition of work as paid-work and the fact that paid work is the most important gateway for social rights are crucial sources of social inequality – not only in terms of material resources but also in respect to recognition and participation (Young, 1990; Fraser, 2001).

We then propose a conceptualization of work based on the capabilities they generate. A typology of activities should reflect their quality and the extent to which they create valuable ways of human flourishing (Sen, 1999). From this perspective, “decent work” is a valuable and freely chosen activity, which expands human capabilities.

Finally, we argue that the study of the mechanisms that produce unequal opportunities to have a flourishing life should be based on an intersectional analysis. This means taking into consideration the ways in which gender, race and age structure the realities of work and reconsidering the role of state institutions in the reproduction of these categorical differentiations (i.e. Nickel, 2009; Scott, 1998).

We claim that this theoretical framework contributes to a better understanding of how social inequalities are organized through labour today.