Economic Sociology of Work: Volume 18


Table of contents

(21 chapters)

Purpose – This introductory essay to an edited volume proposes possible contributions from economic sociology to the study of work broadly defined. Weber had a vision of economic sociology as a study of not only economic phenomena but also economically relevant and economically conditioned phenomena. Work, in its market and nonmarket variety, falls in all these categories and thus presents a fruitful research arena for economic sociologists who have thus far primarily studied markets and corporations.

Methodology/Approach – The essay provides an analytic review of literature in economic sociology, uses information from the content analysis of recent publications in sociology of work, and provides an overview of chapters included in this edited volume.

Value of paper – Applying economic sociology to work means: (a) investigating its embeddedness in social structures, culture, and politics; and (b) uncovering the socially constructed nature of what constitutes paid market work. This article also proposes that economic sociologists can expand the boundaries of work by examining such activities as care work, work in the informal economy, and prison work.

Purpose – The mingling of economic transactions with sexual intimacy, friendship, and kinship sometimes causes trouble in workplaces, but prevailing analyses misrepresent how and why that trouble occurs. Analyses of the impact of intimate relations on organizational effectiveness range from claims of disruption to claims of sociable satisfaction. Such relations often coexist with organizational effectiveness, and sometimes contribute to it.

Methodology – A review and synthesis of available literature identifies theoretical and empirical obstacles to recognition of how intimacy operates within organizations.

Findings – This analysis draws attention to relations between intimate pairs and third parties as crucial to intimacy's impact.

Purpose – Drawing from social psychology and economics, I propose several mechanisms that may affect ownership stakes among entrepreneurs, including norms of distributive justice, negotiation constraints, and network constraints. The processes are explored empirically for a representative dataset of entrepreneurial teams.

Methodology/Approach – Between 1998 and 2000, entrepreneurial teams were sampled from the U.S. population for the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics. I analyze the distribution of ownership stakes at both the individual and group levels.

Findings – The results suggest that principles of macrojustice, affecting the distribution of resources in teams as a whole, deviate considerably from principles of microjustice, affecting the resources received by individual entrepreneurs. While aggregate inequality increases in teams that have a diverse set of members, the effect is not reducible to discrimination on the basis of individual status characteristics. Instead, the relational demography of teams – characterized in terms of the degree of closeness in network ties and homogeneity in demographic attributes – serves as a uniquely social predictor of between-group variation in economic inequality.

Originality/Value of the paper – Empirical research on inequality has paid little attention to the process of group exchange in organizational start-ups, where entrepreneurs pool resources and skills in return for uncertain or indirect payoffs. This paper offers both theoretical frameworks and empirical analyses to shed light on economic inequality among entrepreneurs.

Purpose – This chapter presents a close examination of how manufacturing managers respond to environmental pressures by formulating and implementing operational strategy.

Methodology – The analysis is based on interviews and observations in 31 manufacturing firms in the US Midwest.

Findings – The study reveals that competitive market pressure is only so effective at penetrating the institutional layers of inter- and intra-firm relations. Even in the highly competitive manufacturing sector, operational strategy is consistently implemented in suboptimal ways. Relatively inefficient routines are commonly institutionalized and inefficient arrangements appear to be able to persist for an indefinite period of time. To the extent that firms with variable capabilities and internal socio-technical systems must process, interpret, and react to complex external pressures and often-ambiguous signals, the sociology of work provides essential insights for the sociology of markets.

Originality – While the findings are subject to the standard caveats regarding nonrandom qualitative samples, the rich data produced and the in-depth analysis of real-world organizational pressures and managerial decision-making provide distinctive insights into how managers must balance external market pressures with internal labor process problems. Individual motivation appears to be at least as important in true organizational innovation as market discipline. While adaptation and learning certainly occur in organizations (and selection also operates through the death of extreme laggards) there exists sufficient institutional space within markets for a range of variation in organizational performance. The findings suggest that the analysis of internal organizational dynamics provides an essential part of a realistic theory of markets.

Purpose – This paper investigates the effects of founding, growth, decline, and merger on gender differences in managerial career mobility. These common events create and destroy many jobs, and so have big impacts on managers’ careers. We build on previous research to predict gender differences in job mobility after such events, and show that these gender differences are moderated by the positions managers occupy: level, firm size, and sex composition.

Methodology – We test our predictions using archival data on all 3,883 managerial employees in all 333 firms in the California savings and loan industry between 1975 and 1988. We conduct logistic-regression and event-history analyses.

Findings – Female managers are less likely than male managers to be hired when the set of jobs expands because of founding and growth, and more likely to exit when the set of jobs contracts because of decline and merger. These gender differences exist because relative to men, women occupy lower-level jobs, work in smaller firms, and work in firms with more women at all managerial ranks. The effects of all but one event (the growth of one's own employer) are moderated by managers’ positions.

Value of the paper – Our paper is the first to offer a large-scale test of gender differences in career trajectories in the wake of common organizational events. By showing that these market-shaping events affect male and female managers’ careers differently, and that these effects depend on the positions of male and female managers, we demonstrate economic sociology's potential for studying inequality.

Purpose – Since the 1960s, the affluent democracies have experienced substantial changes in earnings inequality at the same time as heightening economic globalization. This paper investigates the relationship between these two processes.

Methodology/Approach – I use fixed-effects models, and comprehensive measures of globalization and earnings inequality to scrutinize the relationship between the two in 18 affluent democracies. Although past studies concentrate on worker displacement, I examine how globalization affected earnings inequality before and after controlling for manufacturing employment and unemployment as indicators of displacement.

Findings – Initial evidence suggests net migration and investment openness have moderate positive effects, but trade openness has larger, more significant positive effects. In full models, only trade openness remains robustly significant. For a standard deviation increase in trade openness, earnings inequality should increase by between 1/5th and 2/5th of a standard deviation.

Originality/Value of paper – Beyond displacement, this study encourages investigation of power relations (e.g., class capacities of employers vs. workers) and institutional change (e.g., practices of firms) as mechanisms by which globalization contributes to inequality.

Purpose – This paper considers the role of relationality as an interpretive strategy in the workplace, asking how one group of low-wage workers interpret their jobs in the service economy.

Methodology – Qualitative interviews with 25 female retail workers.

Findings – I argue that these retail workers use a relational ethic to interpret various aspects of their work. Relationality colors workers’ understanding of their job responsibilities, their own accounts of self-development in the workplace, and their strategies for resolving conflict on the shop floor.

Practical implications – These findings are particularly relevant for current labor union activities, and thus I conclude by discussing the implications of this relational ethic for attempts to organize workers in the retail sector. Workers who prioritize relationships ahead of material gains in the workplace may be particularly uncomfortable with more confrontational styles of labor organization.

Originality/Value of paper – Economic sociologists increasingly stress relational aspects of the economy, such as the role of networks in enabling market transactions; the significance of social ties in shaping economic exchange, and the importance of economic activity in constituting relationships themselves. This paper builds on that framework by arguing that workers also use a relational ethic to interpret their activity within the workforce itself.

Purpose – The purpose of this essay is to look at the workplace of hostess clubs as moral projects and examine the constitution of morals in the marketplace “from below,” meaning from the perspective of workers. It focuses specifically on the experiences of Filipina hostesses, who constitute the majority of foreign hostesses in Japan. Specifically, it looks at their moral construction of commercial sex in the clubs where they work, which are usually Philippine clubs, meaning clubs that solely employ Filipino women.

Methodology/Approach – Ethnographic research in Philippine hostess clubs in Tokyo, Japan.

Findings – The analysis illustrates the emergence of three moral groupings among Filipina hostesses. They include moral prudes (those who view paid sex as immoral), moral rationalists (those who morally accept paid sex), and lastly moral in-betweeners (those who morally reject the direct purchase of sex but accept its indirect purchase). The case of hostess clubs shows us market activities – in this case, customer–hostess interactions – do not inevitably result in a hegemonic churning of a particular moral order, as the constitution of morals in the marketplace is not only a top-down process but depends on the actions from below, specifically the personal moral order of hostesses, the club culture (sex regimes), peer pressure, and employment status concerns.

Value – This essay provides concrete empirical evidence on an understudied group of migrant workers, and it advances our knowledge on the experiences of sex workers and their negotiation of moral views on commercial sex.

Purpose – The purpose of this research is to investigate whether and to what extent economic transactions are influenced by social structures, power distributions, and cultural understandings through an analysis of exchange at a scrap metal yard in Chicago.

Methodology/Approach – Between March 2000 and December 2002, 72 interviews were conducted with collectors who bring metal to City Iron. With 16 of these collectors the author had a working relationship, assisting the collector in all aspects of the job. Data were coded and analyzed with the assistance of NVIVO, a qualitative data management program.

Findings – The author finds that market transactions are not impersonal and that moral characterizations matter. In this universally risky business in which some level of in-market cheating is expected, material and moral appraisals become intertwined as participants look to extra-market cues and clues in evaluating with whom to transact and how. While the ascription of ethnicity serves as a proxy for the particularistic judgment of trustworthiness, this sorting is accomplished and legitimated by an ostensibly universal moral discourse. Actors evaluate each other using a moral yardstick, paying as much – if not more – attention to what one believes the other is doing when not working as to when one is.

Originality/Value of paper – By focusing on exchange-in-interaction and articulating how economic transactions are culturally embedded, this research contributes to scholarship in the sociologies of work and economies, and provides a glimpse into an understudied work world.

Purpose – University–industry relationships raise concerns about the influence of commercial interests on academic science. In this paper, we investigate how academic scientists who collaborate with industry understand their professional identity in relation to their research money and the notion of scientific “independence.”

Design/Methodology/Approach – We conducted in-depth interviews with 84 scientists and 65 administrators from 9 U.S. universities. The scientists do research in the field of agricultural biotechnology and collaborate with industry. The administrators have oversight responsibility for academic research, university–industry collaborations, and technology transfer.

Findings – We find that our respondents are wary of industry funding but believe that it has an appropriate place in academic research. Typically, industry money is treated either as seed money for preliminary research or as flexible funding that supplements the core, essential competitive grants academic scientists obtain from public agencies. We find that academic scientists talk about the mix of public and private funds in their research funding portfolios in ways that aim to construct an “independent” investigator professional identity.

Originality/Value – Our study is a case of how money is inscribed with meanings in institutional settings. It contributes to scholarship in economic sociology of work by revealing how money is used by academic scientists to signal their alignment with institutionally sanctioned professional norms and by administrators to evaluate scientists' work.

Purpose – This chapter examines how the kollektiv, a form of workplace organization established in the Soviet Union, continues to shape cultural expectations of work in post-Soviet Russia.

Methodology/Approach – This chapter describes a workplace ethnography conducted in a college department in Novosibirsk, Russia in 1999–2000 and 2002, with follow-up trips in 2005–2006. Participant observation is combined with interviews of teachers and students in the department.

Findings – The kollektiv established in the Soviet Union has persisted in modified form in post-Soviet Russia. Instead of a means of Party control, the kollektiv became popularly associated with the group cohesion that arises from frequent social interaction. This sense of cohesion, accompanied by attendant habits of sharing holidays with work colleagues, has persisted to varying degrees among adults in Russia today. Furthermore, the structure of the kollektiv has been maintained for students in schools and colleges, so that new generations of Russian youth are raised to expect to work in cohesive small groups. Their behaviors and expectations contribute to the persistence of the kollektiv in Russian society in the present and near future.

Originality/Value of the paper – This chapter makes two unique contributions: (1) it adds a focus on white-collar work to the predominantly blue-collar and service occupations studied in Russia to date and (2) it presents workplace ethnography of academics, a group rarely studied ethnographically.

Purpose – This chapter illustrates how an economic sociology of work exposes the deeply embedded nature of the informal economy and the social and political lives of its growing mass of unprotected workers under globalization. In particular, the premises of economic sociology offer a comprehensive definition of the informal economy that I term, “relational.” In contrast to definitions based on modernization and neoliberal assumptions of isolated economies, relational definitions of the informal economy expose the structures, networks, and political institutions that intertwine informal workers with the formal economy, society, and the state. Operationalizing the relational definition in labor surveys ensures the inclusion of previously invisible informal workers, especially those who operate at the intersection of the informal and formal economy. As well, it ensures the collection of data on the precise ways in which informal workers are socially and politically embedded, including their collective action efforts, the meaning they attach to their labor, and the social networks that determine their life chances.

Methodology – To illustrate this point, I apply a relational definition of informal labor to the case of India, using the National Sample Survey on Employment and Unemployment, as well as findings from interviews with organized informal workers.

Findings – By doing so, I provide an internationally comparative measure of India's informal workforce, illustrate informal workers’ social conditions relative to those of formal workers, highlight the expansion of the informal workforce since the government enacted liberalization reforms, and expose the unique political action strategies Indian informal workers are launching against the state.

Implications/Originality – These findings help us understand Indian informal workers in an internationally comparative context, yielding empirical insights on their social conditions and political organizations for the first time. As well, they call for an important refinement to existing definitions of the informal economy that to date have relied only on Latin American and African experiences.

Purpose – We seek to understand under which conditions care work emerges from shadow economy and becomes visible, either within families or in a professional frame, both at a political level and at the micro level of social perceptions.

Methodology – We analyze the recent history of French social policies devoted to dependent people and we use a study describing the members of 91 French families confronted, in 2004, with one of their elderly members’ dependence.

Findings – The French State subsidizing compensation for daily difficulties of dependent people leads to a surprising parallel between the rise of specific jobs and the public recognition of family care work. When looking at family structures, there is a huge difference between multiple-members families and trapped kin, erasing gender effect in this latter case. Family care work becomes more visible when there exists a professional equivalent: cleaning, doing the laundry, or washing the dependent person. Thus, male family care work when existing, such as home repairs or administrative tasks, remains invisible.

Research limitations – We analyze the case of France, with two major specificities: a universal State insurance system in a process of including the risk of dependence and a high unemployment rate. We exclude childcare from our study.

Originality of paper – Care studies have developed from two traditions: one emphasizing the ethics of care, and the other straddling between family economics and sociology of domestic work. The paper takes place within a third literature, raising the issue of care work as intimate work, dealing with the personal relationship between a caregiver and a care receiver.

Purpose – To use insights from economic sociology to analyze how U.S. employment law understands and regulates the relationship between prison labor and conventional employment.

Methodology – Legal analysis of all published court opinions deciding whether federal employment laws such as the minimum wage apply to prison labor.

Findings – Courts decide whether prison labor is an “employment relationship” by deciding whether it is an “economic” relationship. Most interpret prison labor as noneconomic because they locate it in a nonmarket sphere of penal relationships. A minority of courts use a different conception of the economy, one which interprets prison labor as a form of nonmarket work.

Implications – The economic character of prison labor may be articulated using the same theoretical perspectives and analytical techniques developed to analyze family labor as economically significant nonmarket work. Doing so, however, too readily accepts the market/nonmarket distinction. Given the thoroughly social character of market work, prison labor's highly structured, institutionally specific character does not preclude characterizing it as market work, and some of its features support interpreting it as such.

In this legal context, identifying practices as economic or not, and as market or not, has concrete consequences for the actors themselves. Rather than using market/nonmarket distinctions as analytical tools, scholars might treat actors' designation of an economic practice as part of a market or not as a site of conflict, subject to institutionalization, and worthy of sociological study.

Publication date
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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