Work gets constantly categorized and classified. It is described as “skilled” or “unskilled”, “formal” or “informal”, “essential” or “non-essential”, “good” or “bad”. Work-related categories are more than theoretical constructs: they are embodied in laws, social norms and practices, formal and informal institutions, thereby shaping the realities of employers and workers. As such, work-related categories are intertwined with questions of power, prestige, and the distribution of material and immaterial benefits. Providing a basis for public policies, they contribute to shaping companies’ organization of work as well as workers’ experience, while contributing to settling the social order through wage classification or social insurance schemes. They vary widely across periods – e.g., home based work in the first wave of industrialization has been replaced by work organized in firms, and now increasingly by telework –, but also over place, e.g. in different countries. For example, what counts as “informal” work, is shaped by social and economic practices, as well as the existing legal regulation of work.
The ongoing process of transformation of work over the three last decades has put into question many established categories, such as “life-long jobs”, “full-employment”, “Taylorism”, “social classes” etc. while raising new ones such as “precarity”, “self-employment”, “coworking”, “telework”, “start-ups”, “bullshit jobs” etc. The Corona pandemic, with its large-scale effects on our societies, has emphasized and given a special visibility to these processes of (re)categorization. Categories such as “essential work” made appear new lines of privilege and disadvantage, for example with regard to health risks, as well as new ways of assessing the value of work, namely with respect to social utility, while blurring other lines of classification.
The upcoming volume brings together essays that reflect on the various ways in which work is categorized and how these categorizations have been shifting in the last decades. Written by sociologists, philosophers, historians, anthropologists, management scholars and legal scholars from several countries, the contributions aim to show the kaleidoscope of varying categorizations of work, contrasting different cultural practices and frameworks.
The publication process is structured by a series of workshops.