© Pierre Maraval

Permanent Fellow

Bénédicte Zimmermann, Dr., Permanent Fellow

Professor of Sociology

École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris

Born in 1965 in Mulhouse, France
Studied History and Political Science at Université Paris 1 Panthéon - Sorbonne and the Institut d'études politiques de Paris


What Kind of Work for What Kind of Society?

Changes in the sphere of work over the last thirty years may be described as a continuous process of adapting companies and their employees to the quality, productivity, and profit demands of the economic and financial markets. The consequences in terms of work conditions, of income gap among workers and shareholders, but also of sustainable development raise the question of the meaning of work and its final purpose. Why do we work?
The ends of work are diverse; this diversity encourages us to consider people at work not merely as producers of economic value but also as creative and social beings. The goal of this project is to analyze current transformations of work and society in light of these multiple meanings of work. Taking France and Germany as cases in point, the analysis aims, first, to develop a better understanding of the various and interrelated processes that converge to reshape the relationship between work, society, and democracy, and, second, to identify the political and social challenges arising from them.

Recommended Reading

Zimmermann, Bénédicte "Tous responsables? Transformations du travail, métamorphoses de la responsabilité." Sociologie du travail 61, 2 (2019), with Michel Lallement.
-. "From Critical Theory to Critical Pragmatism: Capability and the Assessment of Freedom." Critical Sociology 44, 4 (2017).
doi: 10.1177/0896920517691107.
-. Ce que travailler veut dire. Une sociologie des capacités et des parcours professionnels. Paris: Economica, 2014 (1st ed. 2011).

Tuesday Colloquium , 20.06.2017

"Gute Arbeit", "qualité de vie au travail": Are there national standards for good jobs?

For two decades, international organizations like the ILO and the European Commission have been promoting a qualitative approach to work, as a complement to the quantitative one driven by the aim of full employment that prevailed until then. While the ILO promoted the concept of "decent work", the European Commission turned that into the claim for "better jobs", subdivided into "quality of employment" and "quality in work", a key piece of the European social agenda.

On the national level, France and Germany fed the debate, making better jobs a matter of public concern. But whereas "gute Arbeit" is the keyword for it in Germany, "qualité de vie au travail" is the one in France. Can we take for granted that these key words address the same kind of issue, beyond the fact that they both fall under the common umbrella of the English-language concept of "better" or "good" jobs?

The issue is not just a matter of linguistic translation, but of categorization and valuation. Words are part of a process of labeling and categorizing social reality. Therefore, lexical differences are more then just about words; they involve a series of presuppositions about work and workers that are rooted in institutional and socio-political configurations. In the present case, they also involve valuations of what "good" or "quality" should mean in relation to jobs and work.

The aim of the talk is to address the meaning of "gute Arbeit" and "qualité de vie au travail" by giving insight into the contrasted processes of categorization involved. For this purpose, I will rely on some very preliminary results of a French-German ANR/DFG research project on workers’ capabilities for professional development in French and German sites of multinational groups.

Selected Publications

external publication list

Publications from the Fellows' Library

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2018)
Sécuriser les parcours par le compte : formation continue, droits subjectifs et politiques de la singularité

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2017)
Capabilities and working lives

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2017)
From critical theory to critical pragmatism : capability and the assessment of freedom

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( Paris, 2017)
Simmel, le parti-pris du tiers [CNRS philosophie]

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2016)
Semantiken der Nicht-Arbeit an der Wende vom 19. zum 20. Jahrhundert : "Arbeitslosigkeit" und "chômage" im Vergleich

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2015)
Socio-histoire and public-policy rescaling issues : learning from unemployment policies in Germany (1870-1927)

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2015)
Réinventer le travail par la participation : actualité nouvelle d'un vieux débat

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2015)
Evaluation as practical judgment

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( Dordrecht, 2015)
Sociology of valuation and evaluation Human Studies ; 38.2015,1

Zimmermann, Bénédicte ( 2013)
Training and capabilities in French firms : how work and organisational governance matter

Köpfe und Ideen 2016

More Than a Job

by Ralph Bollmann

Read Article

Workshop (Convener)04/21/16

Capability and Pragmatism: Between Social Sciences and Social Philosophy

more about the workshop

Workshop 04/27/17

Soon 50 Years Reforming Social Protection Systems: What Future for Public Provision?

more about the workshop

Keynote Speech03/22/17

Good Work: Why Valuation and Capability Matter



Employees' Vocational Training Capabilities - International Comparisons



Employees' Vocational Training Capabilities - International Comparisons



Work of the Future - The Futures of Work



Work of the Future - The Futures of Work



How Theories of the Corporation Shape Worker Treatment



Working Futures - Imagining Alternatives: Corporate Governance and Workers' Voice



Solidarity at Work



Solidarity at Work