The Corona crisis challenges our societies, and within them the field of work, in various ways. In the following short texts, members of the Working Futures network and Fellows of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin share their reflections on the effects of the pandemic on our social life, the future of work, and the public and academic debates about these challenges for the future.
The digital transformation of work. COVID-19 as a taste of things to come?
After more than three months of working from home and school closures, many Germans are currently experiencing a return to what we considered “normal” before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, in light of the digital transformation, the “normal” of the future may no longer be the “normal” of the past. The Covid-19 pandemic may have given us a peep into the future of digitized and automated workplaces. Much of what both the enthusiasts and the critics of technology are predicting about a digital working world is already being experienced by many people in this exceptional historical situation.read on
Marianne Braig, Léa Renard, Nicola Schalkowski, Theresa Wobbe
Thinking the Global Rise of Forced Labor: Old, New, and Changing Forms of Labor Exploitation in Times of Crisis
The current hygienic and economic crisis affects work relationships and organization in various ways. The virus not only prompted us to identify “systemically relevant jobs”, but also brings to light the diverse divisions of labor (gender, ethnicity, color, migration status, disability, etc.) – including forms of forced and exploitative labor. What does the current situation reveal about contemporary forms of labor exploitation – before, during, and after the crisis?read on
Rearticulating globalization, solidarities, and work in Ethiopia
In the spring of 2020, the coronavirus in Africa seems to be shaping up more as a social and economic crisis than as a health crisis, due to early measures decided by the governments, such as border closures. These measures have raised new awareness about the risks of globalization. Globalization, however, should not be seen solely as a problem. We might rather consider that other forms of globalization that are more inclusive, more social, and more democratic can be promoted in the future.
Felix Sieker and Anke Hassel
The future of shopping - Corona as a catalyst for the transformation of work
Six weeks into the Corona crisis, the German department store chain Galeria Karstadt Kaufhof announced that it would close up to half its stores, resulting in the loss of up to 5,000 jobs. The company had been struggling for years and was severely hit by the lockdown, as most its revenue is still generated by its physical stores. Other retail chains face similar challenges, prompting the largest German retail employer association HDE to announce that it expects up to 50,000 bankruptcies in the upcoming months. However, the Corona crisis and the ensuing lockdown are not the cause of difficulties that large parts of the retail sector are facing, but rather a catalyst.read on
The End of the Pandemic of Productivism?
The Sars-Coronavirus 2 pandemic has thrown a stark light on global inequalities, themselves outcomes of the centuries-long accretion of exploitative relationships based on historically constructed binaries of state and market, human and nature. The spread of the novel virus has not only called forth a radical, global interruption of previously naturalized modes of work, production and distribution of goods and services but also has forced a reckoning with our relationship to our environment.read on
Covid and Looking for the Exit
Covid-19 came as a shock to almost everyone, except for the many elites responsible for the task of preparation. Who should be surprised that pandemics are a threat? Didn’t Hollywood even make a movie Contagion in 2011 that discussed the R0 parameter that Chancellor Merkel explains to the German public? Elites knew, yet we were not prepared. Isn’t that astounding? What’s the point of having elites if they don’t do much?read on
Who or what is being tested in pandemic times?
The coronavirus pandemic is witness to a great proliferation of two types of tests. The first type is testing – new medical diagnostic tests as well as epidemiological models that simulate and project the course of the virus. In the second type, actors, organizations, and institutions are being tested in this moment of social and political crisis.read on
The Crisis as Beginning of a New Relationship to the Professional World?
One of the effects of the pandemic crisis ascribable to Covid-19 has been the home detention of almost half of humanity. The eventual onset of such a scenario would have been judged more than improbable only months or even weeks before measures of confinement were promulgated. The result of the confinement has been to compel a large segment of the working population to invent a new way of working which most are unaccustomed to.read on
Controlled Avalanche – A Regulated Voluntary Exposure Approach for Addressing Covid-19
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented crisis whose optimal means of control and mitigation are still unknown. Most strategies that have been implemented so far have targeted the population as a whole, using mandatory comprehensive measures such as radical social distancing, non-discriminatory testing based on symptoms and potential exposure, and total closeouts of transportation, businesses, and education institutions. We suggest an alternative strategy.read on
Caring about what we hold dear and the final purposes of work
Changes in the sphere of work have been fostered over the last thirty years by a continuous process of adapting companies and their employees to the demands of the economic and financial markets. The pandemic has blatantly revealed, if that were necessary, the limits of such a market-focused logic, while raising to a vital necessity another purpose of work: taking care.read on
How does the Corona crisis affect the future of work and our view of it?
As long as we do not know when and how the Corona crisis will end, its social consequences are impossible to predict. These consequences will be different in East Asia, the West, and the “global South”. Assuming a relatively controlled, but extended course of the Corona crisis, I propose some possible implications for the German labor market. I will develop them using two examples.read on
Laure de Verdalle
"Useful", "indispensable", “essential”: Is the health crisis changing the categories with which we consider professional activities?
The health crisis we are experiencing makes some professional activities appear more socially useful than others. Hospital medical staff, on the "front line" in the daily management of a pandemic, embodies this common perception that some activities are "indispensable" or “essential”, while others could be interrupted for an extended period without too much harm to our societies. Of course, these indispensable activities are not limited to medical and health professions. The unprecedented situation we face leads to new forms of categorizing work.read on
The Corona Crisis Reveals the Struggle for a Sustainable Digital Future
For a long time, experts have warned of the dangers of a non-sustainable world, but few have understood the implications with regard to the use of mass data. The digital revolution allowed the machinery of utility maximization to reach new heights. Today’s surveillance capitalism not only collects detailed information about each and every one of us, but also sells detailed digital copies of our lives.read on
The Need for De-Integration in Pandemic Times
The Corona virus crisis highlights the dangerous interconnectedness of society. In the space of a few weeks, the virus spread everywhere, affecting all domains of society and each of us. From Hubei to Italy to New York to Rwanda, governments must deal with it, the economy is in trouble, schools are closed, interpersonal relationships are blocked, sports competitions and concerts are suspended, and emergency laws are laid down.
The most common response to this challenge is a call for integration between social domains – the idea that interventions in different fields should be coordinated with a unitary approach. A sociological perspective guided by systems theory, however, warns against a simple call for harmonization.read on
The COVID 19 crisis accelerates structural change in the world of work
The current crisis is having a massive impact on the economy and the world of work, and we can expect it to accelerate the structural change that has been shaping German manufacturing industries for at least three decades. Two developments are driving this change: the deep integration of German companies in global production networks and the relocation of production to low-wage countries.read on
How can we strengthen the contributory logic of work?
The crisis has made clear that there is a logic of work that differs from the market logic and has long been overshadowed by it. You could call it a contributory or functional logic: what do individuals in certain occupations contribute to society, which function does their job fulfill?read on