Work is, and always will be, a central institution of society. What makes a capitalist society unique is that it treats the human capacity to engage in labor as a basic commodity. This can be a source of dynamism, as when innovative firms raise wages to attract the best and brightest. But it can also be a source of misery, as when one’s skills are suddenly rendered obsolete by forces beyond one’s control.
Jeffrey J. Sallaz asks us to rethink our basic assumptions about work. Drawing on cutting-edge theories within economic sociology and through the use of contemporary examples, he conceptualizes labor as embedded exchange. This draws attention to issues that all too frequently are overlooked in our public discourse and private imaginations: how various forms of work are classified and valued; how markets for labor operate in practice; and how people can challenge the central fiction that their work is simply a commodity to be bought and sold.
This readable and engaging book is suitable for both graduate and advanced undergraduate students. It will be of interest to economic sociologists, scholars of labor, and all of those who find themselves working for a living.
List of Figures vi
1 Introduction: What Good is Work? 1
2 The Great Transformation of Work 17
3 Classifying Labor 41
4 Commensurating Labor 66
5 Making Labor Markets 88
6 Controlling Labor 110
7 Labor and Group-Making 134
8 Conclusion: What Good is Embeddedness? 157
“By studying labor markets, Jeffrey Sallaz investigates a field long neglected by the new economic sociology. He shows stupendously how the tools of economic sociology can be used for the analysis of labor. At the same time, he demonstrates how the analysis of labor under global capitalism enriches the conceptual toolkit of economic sociology.”
Jens Beckert, Director, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies
“In this age of neoliberal ‘great transformation,’ Sallaz skillfully provides an enticing and beautifully written account of a new ‘critical economic sociology of labor’ which draws on the most recent research. ‘The embeddedness of labor within the social’ is examined through the prisms of technology, globalization, regulatory agencies, the state, emotional labor, gift-making, and much more. This book will leave its mark on economic sociology, the sociology of work and industrial relations, and our understanding of inequality-generating processes, and I recommend it with enthusiasm.”
Michèle Lamont, Harvard University
“Globalization has now exposed workers to the capricious forces of the unregulated market, rendering employment precarious, individualized, and increasingly redundant. The gross accumulation of wealth by the one percent, the impoverishment of millions of working people, and the destruction of social cohesion in the heartlands of capitalism have put in question an economic system that continues to be governed by the crude, and ultimately immoral, principles of love of gain and fear of loss of economic livelihood. Sallaz invites the reader to join the search for alternatives.”
Kari Polanyi-Levitt, McGill University
- Innovative contribution that reconnects the sociology of work and economic sociology
- Combines cutting-edge theories with vibrant contemporary examples to map out new terrain at this dynamic intersection
- Engages with issue such as how various forms of work are classified and valued, how labour markets operate in practice, and how people can challenge the idea that work is simply a commodity to be bought and sold
- Essential reading for upper-level students of economic sociology and the sociology of work