ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations

Index of Volumes

Vol. 135 (1996), No. 6


Perspectives on work: Introduction, by Alain SUPIOT

The effects of economic liberalization are making it necessary to rethink the question of work. To manage the transformation of work, the author advocates a multidisciplinary approach to the social sciences with linkage to law. This is the basic idea underlying the contributions in this issue of the Review: some look at work from historical, anthropological and philosophical perspectives, while others analyse "the new boundaries of wage employment" or conjecture on tomorrow's labour law. Work is part of both our material and our social lives. Its legal status cannot, therefore, be reduced to "a matter of human resource engineering".

Work and usefulness to the world, by Robert CASTEL

No debate on the role of work in social integration - and least of all a debate on the role of today's wage employment - can be truly meaningful without reference to law. Tracing the emergence of the modern concept of work, the author shows that at every stage of the concept's historical development, it was law which gave workers their dignity and recognition for their social utility. He appeals for an overhaul of labour law to prevent the current individualization and growing precariousness of employment relationships from translating into that form of social uselessness called exclusion.

Work and identity in India, by Gérard HEUZE-BRIGANT

The complex question of work and identity in India is approached from an anthropological viewpoint, offering the reader a number of leads. For centuries, for work to confer identity it had to be performed within a caste, sect, or the family. Though wage employment now exists, it is considered responsible for all economic ills. The wage employment model has only a relative significance in cultures to which the notions of employment and the wage-earner were foreign until colonization, and where work itself is peripheral to the prevailing value systems and is not seen as the source of social usefulness.

New perspectives on work as value, by Dominique MEDA

The concept of work and the all-important role it has acquired in western societies are historical constructs, not an expression of the essence of humanity. To charge work alone - under the ambiguous label of "activity" - with the creation and maintenance of the social bond is to submit to the exchange-based version of that bond promoted by economics. It passes over the primary concern of philosophers and citizens, namely the idea of the "good society", the proper goals of society, the nature of social wealth, and the distribution of basic goods (including work) most likely to promote social cohesion.

Decline and resurgence of unremunerated work, by Raymond LE GUIDEC

The distinction between remunerated and unremunerated work is typically legal. Remunerated work is the norm, and many forms of unremunerated work are becoming extinct as they come to be recognized as work and the workers concerned acquire rights, as in family businesses for example. Counter to this trend, current measures to combat unemployment are throwing up new forms of work that are without cost to the employer. This type of work, however, while unremunerated from the employer's point of view, does not imply loss of recognition because it is an expression of collective solidarity.

Work and the public/private dichotomy, by Alain SUPIOT

An opposition between public and private, between the State and civil society, permeates today's conceptualization of society. The author reflects upon that opposition and its implications for the organization of employment relationships. He shows that the vision of a public sphere losing ground to the values and methods of the private is misleading. What is actually happening, he argues, is more in the nature of a restructuring of relations between the private and public spheres. The central issue is the redefinition of public interest values common to both.

Work and training: A blurring of the edges, by Françoise FAVENNEC-HERY

The links between work and training lie at the heart of the changes wrought in post-industrial society, but the notion of training is not precisely defined. It is not just the acquisition of knowledge or techniques, it is also a structural element in an individual's overall activity. The notion of work is equally unclear, and is often subsumed into that of employment. The passage from training to work is undergoing major change and the distinction between the two is blurring, which affects the nature of the employment contract and casts new light on the legal recognition of vocational skills.

Post-industrial society and economic security, by Jean-Baptiste de FOUCAULD

Because it is conducive to progress, work has become a central value in today's society. Assuming that this relation between work and development will persist, the author argues for a right to work to be written into labour law. This calls for redefining the objectives of labour law to satisfy two requirements within the framework of a new social contract: the first is continuous adjustment of both people and organizations, and the second, people's economic security.

Towards a new definition of the employment relationship, by Ulrich MÜCKENBERGER

Economic development has brought about a process of individualization and crisis of representation in the world of work. This constitutes a threat to social integration and regulation. But it also offers the opportunity to formulate a new life and work ethic, to develop other concepts of solidarity. To this end, the author proposes a "re-regulation" of the employment relationship that is compatible with productive efficiency, one that introduces the concept of "citizenship" into the enterprise, recognizes individual diversity and need for autonomy, and establishes a new style of dialogue and communication in workplace relations.

By way of conclusion: Labour law and employment transitions, by Gérard LYON-CAEN

After outlining his assessment of the state of labour law, the author reflects on the nature and future of work, on the ideas involved and the historical process through which it has passed. He then considers the contrasting concepts of work vs. training, remunerated vs. unremunerated work, wage employment vs. self-employment, and private- vs. public-sector work. Finally, he addresses the question of employment transitions, and of a possible transition between an old and a new form of labour law.

Updated by MCN. Approved by MFL. Last update: 9 November 1999.