The Future of Work, Finance and the Economy

The future of work and the availability of sustainable jobs are key global social challenges.

Addressing UN Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, our list provides in-depth research into topics from the role of trade unions in the 21st century to the impact of AI and machine learning. Key series in this area include Feminist Perspectives on Work and Organization and Organizations and Activism.

We are proud to support Futures of Work, an online space for radical critiques of the changing world of work. Edited by Harry Pitts, Katie Bales and Huw Thomas, Futures of Work is a free-to-access magazine that connects academic and public commentators in order to discuss the pressing issues of our time.

Bristol University Press and Policy Press are signed up to the UN SDG Publishers Compact. In The future of work and the economy, we aim to address the following goals: 

The Future of Work, Finance and the Economy

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European Experiences in a Neoliberal Era

More people are extending their working lives through necessity or choice in the context of increasingly precarious labour markets and neoliberalism. This book goes beyond the aggregated statistics to explore the lived experiences of older people attempting to make job transitions.

Drawing on the voices of older workers in a diverse range of European countries, leading scholars explore job redeployment and job mobility, temporary employment, unemployment, employment beyond pension age and transitions into retirement.

This book makes a major contribution and will be essential reading within a range of disciplines, including social gerontology, management, sociology and social policy.

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Critical Perspectives on Work, Subjectivities and Struggles

The words ‘precarity’ and ‘precariousness’ are widely used when discussing work, social conditions and experiences. However, there is no consensus on their meaning or how best to use them to explore social changes.

This book shows how scholars have mapped out these notions, offering substantive analyses of issues such as the relationships between precariousness, debt, migration, health and workers’ mobilisations, and how these relationships have changed in the context of COVID-19.

Bringing together an international group of authors from diverse fields, this book offers a distinctive critical perspective on the processes of precarisation, focusing in particular on the European context.

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The concept of employee resilience continues to receive burgeoning academic attention within the fields of organisational psychology and human resource management, while practitioner interest has intensified since the pandemic. So far, however, resilience remains underexamined from a labour process perspective. Taking a labour process theory lens, this article explores the potential silencing effect of resilience in the workplace. We argue that the universalist narrative of resilience, one which embodies neoliberalism and individualism, has implications for how work is governed and for worker resistance. We conclude with a discussion of the need to counter such forms of hegemonic control arising from the contemporary rhetoric of resilience.

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Authors: Abigail Marks and Esme Terry

Based on data from over 70 interviews with people working in the home credit industry, this article makes a unique contribution to knowledge about work in sub-prime financial services. The article demonstrates how extant positions constructing home credit agents as ‘dirty workers’ are to some extent misleading, omitting analysis of the place(s) in which such work is enacted. Home credit has been established in disadvantaged, stigmatised communities for decades and is central to the history and geography of many working-class territories. Drawing on theory surrounding place and territorial stigma, this article considers the complicated relationship between the conflicting feelings of taint and value held by home credit workers, thus contributing to a more nuanced and contextually aware understanding of ‘dirty work’. Moreover, by exploring the value of home credit agents to their borrowers, it is possible to gain insights as to how to better structure financial support in low-income communities.

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Liminality, as originally conceived by anthropologists, is a temporary ‘in-between’ state that acts as a bridge, connecting old roles to new roles, and resulting in a desired new state. The article applies this concept to precarious migrant work. We argue, specifically, that migrants in low-wage and insecure work occupy four main liminal realms following their cross-border mobility: the temporal, the financial, the social and the legal. We explore these four realms using qualitative interview evidence (36 interviews) from comparative research with migrant workers, migrant employers and community stakeholders in Norway and the UK. The article then reflects on the balance between liminality (as a positive, temporary and in-between state) and limbo (as a negative, long-term state). We argue that migrants doing precarious work avoid limbo, but at the same time do not experience liminality as originally conceived. Instead, they experience what we term ‘ambiguous liminality’: where precarious work is encountered as liminal, but where the exact mechanisms and pathways leading to a desired new state are multiple, uncertain and incremental. Liminality, however ambiguous, is a vital expression of migrant agency; but it also serves the interests of capital too: masking the negatives associated with precarious work and helping to underpin precarious migrants’ work ethic.

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Author: Matt Vidal

This article presents a theory of routine politics of production, which was inductively developed based on a case study of 22 supplier factories in the USA, including in-depth interviews with 31 managers and 52 workers. All factories had implemented lean production. The findings show that (i) some managers prioritise the qualitative upgrading of organisational capabilities over quantitative work intensification, (ii) this includes objective forms of worker empowerment, and (iii) many workers resist or are hesitant about these forms of empowerment (while being committed to their work). The majority of workers from this convenience sample described either no work intensification under lean or ‘positive intensification’, which by their own assessment reduces monotony and/or makes the work more challenging. The first necessary condition for routine politics of production to obtain is that managers prioritise qualitative upgrading over quantitative effort levels. The second necessary condition is worker reticence or resistance toward managerial attempts to change routines.

The article eschews theories of control and consent in favour of a classical Marxist framework emphasising labour process contradictions. Managers face conflicting pressures between deskilling and upskilling labour. Workers develop a contradictory orientation of alienated commitment. They are committed to being productive workers, in an attempt to realise a purpose in response to their alienation. Yet, in another manifestation of their alienation, experiences of bad management result in scepticism toward management. They embrace their work and Fordist conceptions of efficiency, wanting to see their organisation succeed, yet they contest managerial attempts to upgrade routines, which they deem inefficient.

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The purpose of this article is to extend knowledge and understanding of work in the platform economy by focusing on the phenomenon of (video)blogging on and around social media platforms. The growth of the platform economy has attracted considerable attention in recent years. As yet, however, research has focused almost exclusively on labour platforms that operate to match the supply of and demand for paid work in fields such as food delivery, ride hailing, cleaning or data entry activities. Surprisingly little is known about work and its manifestations on other platforms, despite the fact that the platform economy embraces a huge variety of arrangements for income generation. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 18 German (video)bloggers we show that (video)blogging constitutes a specific form of ‘digital self-employment’ that combines features of traditional self-employment with digitally mediated dependencies. While (video)bloggers enjoy both a great deal of independence from managerial control and a high degree of autonomy, they are also subject to the rules and algorithms set by large tech companies. The example of (video)blogging, together with the experiences of (video)bloggers, highlights the extent to which the platform economy has created new types of work that need to be taken into consideration to enable a deeper understanding of the evolving dynamics of the platform economy and how these are transforming the nature of work.

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Author: Vera Weghmann

This Theory into Practice piece uses theoretical underpinnings of Ness as well as Cleaver and Sivanandan to explore the role of two independent trade unions that emerged in the UK in the mid 2010s, namely the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) in 2012 and the United Voices of the World (UVW) in 2014. Despite being of relatively small size (each has a membership of under 10,000) and with few financial resources, they have been praised for their ground-breaking and ‘significant high-profile wins’ in ‘David and Goliath’ battles. In this article I discuss why low paid, largely migrant workers have organised within these independent unions; and the extent to which they have applied syndicalist tactics and strategies. The analysis is rooted in my practice, as someone who was involved in the IWGB from the start and then co-founded the UVW in 2014.

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Author: Al James

This article explores the gendered dynamics of labouring on digital labour platforms and gives voice to women gig workers. Millions of women worldwide find work through digital labour platforms, yet remain largely invisible within the expansive digital labour research agenda. The analysis is built from original interviews with 49 women in the UK using a range of popular remote crowdwork platforms (including PeoplePerHour, Upwork, TaskRabbit, Freelancer) to access desk-based, white-collar gig work from home. The article makes three original contributions. First, it widens the analytical focus of the digital labour research agenda to recognise the role of workers’ gender identities and uneven household gender divisions of care in shaping the operation and outcomes of digital labour platforms, in ways that remain ‘hidden in the cloud’. Second, in contrast to widespread celebratory claims that platforms disrupt stubborn gender labour market inequalities, the analysis identifies significant gendered constraints on women’s algorithmic visibilities and abilities to compete for gig work online, alongside multiple health and safety issues among women gig workers undocumented in previous research. Third, in response to these new insights, and based on calls from women gig workers themselves, it sets out a series of new directions for extending this urgent multidisciplinary research agenda.

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The COVID-19 Response and its Controversies
Author: Yohann Aucante

With Sweden traditionally hailed as a social and economic model, it is no wonder that the Swedish response to the COVID-19 pandemic raised a lot of questions – and eyebrows – around the world. This short book explores Sweden’s unique response to the global pandemic and the strong wave of controversies it triggered.

It helps to makes sense of the response by defining ‘a Swedish model’ that incorporates the country’s value system, underpinning its politics and administration in relation to, among other things, welfare, democracy, civil liberties and respect for expertise. The book also acts as a case study for understanding the moral and normative ways in which different national approaches to the pandemic have been compared.

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