Shifting Class: Experiencing Labour Market Transitions and Downward Mobility

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 15:06
Oral Presentation
Vivian SHALLA, University of Guelph, Canada
In the current context of economic restructuring and downsizing, many workers find themselves forced to move either between jobs, often of a precarious nature, or between periods of employment and unemployment and/or social assistance. This transition in workers= position in, and attachment to, the labour market clearly points to employment instability, insecurity and precarity, a shift that is compounded by downward mobility, often both individual and intergenerational. These dynamics have implications for individuals’ class position and identity under neo-liberal capitalism. Drawing on qualitative in-depth interviews with workers in the Guelph and Wellington Region of Ontario, Canada, this paper focuses on the lived experiences and challenges of employment precarity and downward social mobility faced by workers undergoing labour market transitions since the 2008 economic crisis. It locates these changes in the context of transformations in the local economy set within the broader global economy. The paper examines transition pathways and processes, as well as different dimensions of individual agency in shaping outcomes. It also analyzes workers’ understanding of social class both structurally and subjectively, as well as their changing perceptions of their own class status and identity flowing from labour market transitions and deepening precariousness. Finally, workers’ struggle to maintain a middle-class status and identity is addressed. This paper contributes to our sociological understanding of work and social stratification under contemporary capitalism by bringing together scholarly literature on labour market transitions and precariousness, social mobility, and class identity to couch the analysis of the everyday lived experiences and decisions of workers struggling within broader structures and forces.