Guide to the vibrant and

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But many costs are incurred as well: new conflicts,

complexities, and administrative hierarchies are

necessitated by this distinct employment arrangement.

For example, when company policy dictates

that a certain percentage of jobs are to be staffed

by temporary workers only, middle managers and

supervisors often have to enter into complicated

negotiations with staffing agencies over the qualifications

they require of a temporary worker, the

wage that will be paid, or training opportunities

that temps are eligible to take advantage of. Unanticipated

hierarchies can develop when coworkers

are requested to direct and even train

temporary workers, acting as de facto supervisors.

The increased use of contingent workers has gone

hand-in-hand with the corporate restructuring

processes identified earlier.

People are casually employed when they work

to earn income in the informal economy. In the

informal economy, goods and services are

rendered and compensated outside formal employment

relationships and institutions. In nearly

all societies, work in the informal economy provides

a significant source of income for many

people who face insurmountable obstacles to finding

jobs in the formal sector. Discrimination by

employers, lack of adequate educational credentials,

skills, or cultural capital, immigration

status, lack of capital to start small businesses,

and family responsibilities that can restrict

women’s abilities to participate in the formal

labor force are just some of the factors determining

people’s decisions about whether to earn

income by participating in the informal economy.

Such work might take the form of preparing food

in one’s home and selling it on the street, doing

construction or yard work as day laborers, sewing

garments in sweatshops, cleaning houses, doing

childcare, taking in boarders, doing laundry, and

selling drugs. Since informal economic activities

are not scrutinized or regulated by the state, work

in this sector of the economy – sometimes referred

to as the underground economy – often places

workers at a considerable disadvantage with respect

to income, safety, and stability. Since the

1960s feminist sociologists have highlighted the

significance of unpaid work that is performed in

the home. Since women are not working for an

employer they are not embedded in an employment

relationship per se, nor do they hold a job,

technically speaking. Unpaid domestic labor is an

important case of work, nevertheless. Historically,

domestic labor was not considered to be productive

work and was often viewed as a set of tasks

quite distinct from work in the world of corporations

and businesses. Work in the home was not

labor as work, it was labor as love. Domestic work

was not viewed as skilled or complex; rather, it

was viewed as something that women carried out

because they were naturally inclined towards

these nurturing and relational activities. To the

contrary, contemporary feminist scholars have

persuasively argued that preparing food, tending

to the health, educational, and social needs of

children and spouses, and maintaining normative

standards of living – all work that has been carried

out primarily by women, even when they work for

pay in the marketplace, too – form the bedrock of

the production and reproduction of the labor

force under capitalism. It is also fraught with

tension because it combines the instrumentality

of labor with the affectiveness of love, countervailing

principles of social organization that are

evoked in caring for one’s family.

Feminist sociologists such as Ann Oakley documented

the complexities in the work of maintaining

households and caring for children, and

traced out the value of these tasks for sustaining

work and employment work and employment


society as a whole. Family relations, as a nexus

within which household labor is carried out, typically

are relations of inequality and power between

women and men, and in recent years

research studies have shown that housework is a

subject of contestation between husbands and

wives. Thus, close examination of domestic,

unpaid work raises many of the same issues one

encounters when studying paid work, such as

alienation, dignity, inequality, and consciousness.

Increasing the complexity of analyzing domestic

work is that paid domestic work, such as cleaning

houses and caring for other people’s children, has

been commodified and organized along the same

unequal relationships of employment that have

characterized work in formal capitalist workplaces.

Paid domestic work such as child rearing

and housekeeping is vulnerable to the same tension

found in unpaid domestic work, predicated

on the dialectic of labor and love.

The world of work and employment has

changed considerably over the last century. What

are the pressing issues and questions facing

scholars who do research in this field at this point

in time? A major area of sociological research is

the examination of ways in which work organizations

are structured as vehicles of inequality in

capitalist society. This literature goes beyond the

simple Marxist insight that class is the only basis

for inequality, to the insight that within and

across classes there is significant gender and race

inequality as well. Specifically, work organizations

block opportunity for some groups while

providing opportunities for upward mobility,

status, and income to others. The study of occupational

segregation of jobs by sex and by race and

ethnicity has been an important topic in this area.

Work organizations serve to perpetuate inequality

when they have mechanisms which relegate white

women and people of color to subordinate positions

at work; when men and women are segregated

into jobs with unequal wages, authority,

and mobility; and when people of color and white

women are barred from training, professional development,

and leadership opportunities. White

women, and men and women of color, are more

likely to be found in jobs that are deskilled, marginalized,

part-time, and disempowered.

Of course, many sociologists have theorized how

disadvantage can be corrected. Moss Kanter, for

example, argues that job ladders need to be created

to link female corporate clerical workers in deadend

positions to the middle and upper reaches of

managerial positions. Feminist sociologists and activists

argue that comparable worth programs can

rectify pay inequities between women and men

that are based on unequal valuation of women’s

work compared with men’s work.

A recent generation of scholars argue that organizations

themselves are fundamentally gendered

and racialized. Historically, the study of

work was gender- and race-blind. Researchers

often implicitly based their definition of “career”

and the normative career worker on class-,

gender-, and race-specific experiences. They defined

the “typical” career worker as an unencumbered

professional who could uninterruptedly

pursue vertical mobility on a continuous, fulltime-

plus basis, ignoring the fact that this model

of work conflicted with the lives of the majority

of working women. Several generations of feminist

scholars, however, have corrected this

gender- and race-neutral model. They point out

that the way jobs and careers are defined, the

unnamed gendered and racialized assumptions

that underlie particular organizational arrangements

and policies, and the cognitive but unexamined

biases that managers and employers

have about who is appropriate for what type of

work all play a role in maintaining gender and

racial inequality in the workplace. Gendered and

racialized assumptions pervade the very fabric,

culture, and structure of organizations, leading

many to conclude that work organizations need

to be much more fundamentally restructured

than just changing job ladders, mandating diversity

training, or recruiting more white women

and people of color into executive management

positions. The recognition that work organizations

are constructed around implicit biases

against white women and people of color can be

extended to the case of other categories of

workers as well, such as the case of the disabled.

National laws forbid outright sex or race discrimination

yet sociological research has uncovered

ongoing, more subtle forms of discrimination,

not amenable to easy measurement or observation.

So, too, legislation (in the United States, the

Americans with Disabilities Act) prohibits employers

from preventing the disabled from acquiring

jobs or gaining access to promotion

opportunities. Yet, in more subtle ways, work

organizations hold assumptions about “ablebodied”

workers that routinely present barriers

to the employment and promotion of differently

abled people. The central insight that workplaces

are predicated on unexamined and subtle assumptions

about the characteristics and abilities

of workers has been a major advance in sociological

studies of work and employment.

work and employment work and employment


Another area of inquiry that continues to be

fruitful is the study of worker participation, consent,

and resistance. Building on the labor process

tradition, scholars working in this area examine

the specific processes through which people do

their jobs, focusing on how technology can

change, deskill, and upgrade jobs, systems of control,

and worker resistance to them, and managerial

ideologies about their workers. At heart a

Marxist tradition, labor process theorists argue

that workers’ interests and subjectivities are

shaped in the process of work and often are at

odds with those of management. Thus, workers

often resist managerial directives when they

watch with suspicion as engineers and managers

try to simplify, speed up, and rationalize their

jobs, or fragment their relations with co-workers.

Workers respond by fashioning their own pace

and organization of work. In other words, they

work on their own terms even though they are

constrained by management scrutiny and methodology.

Michael Burawoy’s classic study of male

machine shop workers, Manufactured Consent

(1979), showed how the machinists accepted production

quotas set for them by management but

achieved their quotas in ways that allowed them

to play games and to use production methods that

ran counter to management’s design of the production


The focus on resistance, consent, and subjectivity

has been applied to a variety of work settings,

including factories around the world, offices, restaurants,

and other service-delivery organizations.

This field has yielded many insights to gender and

race scholars who highlight how women and

people of different race and ethnic backgrounds

stand their ground and reject managers’ attempts

to use cultural stereotypes to gain control over

them. Leslie Salzinger, in Genders in Production

(2002), points out that in the contemporary global

factory, transnational managers strive to construct

multiple gendered subjectivities of male

and female workers in order to meet their own

production and professional objectives.

The rise of the global economy and competitive

pressures facing corporations in industrialized

nations have engendered a proliferation of new

flexible work arrangements. Researchers use different

terms, such as flexible specialization and

post-Fordism, to capture these arrangements and

have shown the variety of ways in which flexible

schemes are deployed in unionized blue-collar settings.

A major debate in these studies has been

over whether new participative production arrangements

give manufacturing workers genuine

flexibility and autonomy in their jobs or whether

they represent a form of co-optation of workers’

shop-floor power.

However, the literature on post-Fordism and

flexible specialization has suffered from the adoption

of a model based primarily on the experiences

of white male industrial workers who are

unionized. Others argue that the salient question

should not be about real empowerment versus cooptation

with a narrow focus on industrial settings

from which most unskilled workers of color,

women, and immigrant workers historically have

been excluded. Instead, they argue, sociologists

should shift the focus to workers who are typically

left out of the debate, low-skill, low-pay workers in

a variety of settings. The mechanisms and meaning

of empowerment can vary for diverse groups

of people, depending on their particular class,

ethno-racial, gender, and occupational experiences.

The subject is particularly urgent because

the low-skill, low-pay employment model, often

associated with the disadvantageous employment

conditions of a huge retailer like Walmart, has

become pervasive and is steadily corroding the

union model of employment, based on a living

wage and benefits.

Work and employment undoubtedly will

remain among the most vibrant areas of study in

the discipline of sociology. As researchers continue

to study the multi-faceted impact of current

trends and identify new ones, they will be well

positioned to provide critical insights about stratification,

identity, and the potential for social

change at the community, state, national, and

global levels. V ICKI SMITH

working class

– see social class.

working-class conservatism

– see conservatism.

world religions

– see religion.

world-system theory

– see world-systems analysis.

world-systems analysis

This approach to macro-historical questions and

social structures arose in the 1970s as a critique of

the dominant liberal consensus of modernization

and development theory, framed within the

context of the structural-functionalist modernization

school led by Harvard’s Talcott Parsons and

work and employment world-systems analysis


others, which took as its object of analysis nationstates

developing along roughly parallel lines. As

has been pointed out, this was less the objective

analysis of the world it pretended to be than what

William Buxton, in his Talcott Parsons and the Capitalist

Nation-State (1985), referred to as “political

sociology as a strategic vocation.” World-systems

analysis is associated most especially with Immanuel

Wallerstein, who was a Professor of Sociology at

Columbia University during the student revolts of

1968 over the Vietnam War and related issues, and

a key part of a group of faculty supportive of the

students. In contrast to the modernization school,

Wallerstein argues we are all participants rather

than detached observers in the world-system, something

no doubt the Columbia uprising helped

teach him. Moreover, in contrast with scholarly

parochialism, Wallerstein calls not for a multidisciplinary

but instead a unidisciplinary approach to

the study of social systems. Currently at Yale, Wallerstein

was for decades a Distinguished Professor

of Sociology at Binghampton University (part of the

State University of New York), which became for a

time the center of world-systems studies. There,

Wallerstein and associate Terence Hopkins

founded the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study

of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilizations,

along with its journal Review. Wallerstein and his

colleagues – many of whom had taken up positions

at various universities – formed an associated

section of the American Sociological Association,

the Political Economy of the World-System

(PEWS), which also holds yearly conferences and

publishes an annual set of papers. Since its arrival

on the scene, world-systems analysis has influenced

numerous other disciplines in the United States

and abroad. Indeed, the work of Wallerstein and

his colleagues has played a major role in the flourishing

of what Randall Collins calls “the golden age

of historical sociology.”

Wallerstein’s holistic vision, inspired by socialist

ideals of equality, fraternity, and liberty – in sharp

contrast to both the brutality of “actually existing

socialism” under Stalinist regimes, and global capitalism

– poses a stark challenge to social scientific

views of development as largely an internal process

of modernization. While development theory, including

numerous Marxist variants, largely

accepted the modernization approach, this was increasingly

challenged by dependency theorists,

who argued that development and underdevelopment

were opposite sides of the same coin. Previous

to the work of Wallerstein, studies of west

European and Third World economic development

took place largely in isolation from each other.

Rather than focusing on ostensibly modernizing

separate states, Wallerstein instead posited that

the proper unit of analysis for the study of historical

social systems was the global division of labor.

Transgressing as it did the boundaries of territorially

based states, this division of labor reflected the

substantive economic interdependence between

different states and regions in what was a capitalist

world-economy, which became the key unit of analysis

for world-system scholars. Thus, worldsystems

analysis, drawing on intellectual sources

as diverse as the French Annales school with its

emphasis on geoeconomic regions, the German

historical school, dependency theorists, and Marxism,

posited the study of the whole, or totalities.

A prolific author, Wallerstein is best known for

the three volumes of his The Modern World-System

(1974, 1980, and 1989). In these and a series of other

works, Wallerstein brought together two largely

separate areas of inquiry, European economic history

and studies of the Third World. Using this

material, Wallerstein argued that between roughly

1450 and 1640 there emerged a new historical

social system, a capitalist world-economy, the analysis

of which was the key to understanding longterm,

large-scale social change. Development and

underdevelopment and state formation and deformation

were analyzed as part of a single historical

process. Whereas modernization theorists like

Barrington Moore, Jr., focused on industrialization,

Wallerstein instead emphasized the centrality of

agricultural capitalism in the early European

world-economy. Wallerstein analyzed how, in the

context of the crisis of feudalism, the emerging

states of western Europe and their capitalist classes

vastly expanded through overseas conquest and


Slowly but surely, a modern world-system

emerged characterized by a global division of labor,

within which there were formed a tripartite relational

hierarchy of core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral

zones, with surplus appropriation taking

place between rich and poor states in a process

of uneven development. These economic zones

reflected differences in productive structures,

incomes, and state strength and had variegated

modes of labor control, largely free wage labor in

the core and coerced forms of labor control in the

periphery. With northwestern Europe emerging as

the core, the former Habsburg Empire was relegated

largely to the semi-periphery, while eastern

Europe and the Americas formed peripheral zones,

through informal empires or formal territorial conquest

respectively. Typical of Wallerstein’s work is

his construction of analytical concepts through

world-systems analysis world-systems analysis


comparative analysis, for example his contrast of

the notion of “world-empire” with a capitalist

world-economy, or of the development of England

as core and Poland as periphery in what Fernard

Braudel (1902–85) termed “the long sixteenth


In addition, Wallerstein showed how racialethnic

and ethno-national status hierarchies – including

unequal forms of citizenship dividing the

working class while simultaneously tying it to

national state-corporate elites and their institutional

structures – formed an integral part of the

global division of labor. Historical capitalism,

rather than expressing the free play of market

forces, is instead seen as decisively shaped by the

power of state actors. In their endless quest to

accumulate capital – preferably through superprofits

– capitalists aim to distort the market for

their own monopolistic advantage. The quest for

accumulation, within the ongoing context of

interstate competition and class conflict between

labor and capital, thus forms a crucial set of keys

for understanding historical change. Yet while

there is movement in and out of the core, semiperiphery,

and periphery, it is relatively rare, and

more importantly, does not change the overall

structural inequalities inherent in the organization

of the world capitalist system.

In the world-systems perspective, the capitalist

world-economy is seen as subject to cycles of expansion

and contraction and related processes of

hegemonic rise and decline, which reflect some of

its elementary contradictions as a historical

system. In addition to these cycles, there are secular

trends, including expansion, commodification,

proletarianization, bureaucratization, and mechanization.

Wallerstein and his colleagues also incorporated

into their empirical accounts a host of

factors, ranging from geography to ecology and

epidemiology, though these are only weakly integrated

into the overall analysis. Among the topics

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