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Visions of the future of employment: a critical overview

Colin Williams (Professor of Public Policy at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK.)


ISSN: 1463-6689

Article publication date: 29 August 2008



This paper aims to provide a critical overview of the diverse visions of the future of employment.


A conceptual framework is presented for understanding the common narrative structure that underpins a multitude of contrasting visions on how employment will be organized in the future.


This paper shows how the diverse stories about the future of employment adopt a similar storyline, and reveals how most visions: firstly squeeze all forms of employment into one side or other of some dualism; secondly, order the two sides into a temporal and/or normative sequence in which one side is seen as universally replacing and/or more progressive than the other; and finally, represent this one‐dimensional linear trajectory by concocting some label to represent their vision, which usually involves using some ‐ism, ‐ation or post‐something‐or‐other.

Practical implications

Visions of the future of employment are shown to be grounded in some binary hierarchy (e.g. from Fordism to post‐Fordism, bureaucracy to post‐bureaucracy), all of which over‐simplify lived practice. To offer a way forward that transcends these one‐dimensional and linear stories, this paper argues for a more kaleidoscopic understanding that recognizes the heterogeneous and multiple directions of employment and opens up the future to new possibilities.


This paper highlights how a common storyline underpins a diverse array of competing visions of the future of employment.



Williams, C. (2008), "Visions of the future of employment: a critical overview", Foresight, Vol. 10 No. 5, pp. 24-33.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited