Universität Bielefeld

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Economics and Work


The members of the Research and Teaching Unit on Economics and Work represent the sociology of work and economic sociology in research and teaching. Economic activity and work are ubiquitous phenomena that have existed in all historical and current societies. By pursuing economic activities, people prepare for future demands, and by working, they secure and reproduce their individual lives and the life of the society in which they live.


Economic Sociology

The development of economic sociology as a distinct subdiscipline of sociology might be regarded as science’s answer to the increasing differentiation and autonomization of the economy within society and to the ongoing spread in every area of modern societies of patterns of thought and action that focus primarily on economic aspects. When understood in this way, economic sociology might be conceptualized either as a specialized sociology of the economy as a subsystem of society and of its institutions, organizations, fields, action patterns and actors, or as a sociology of economic action in society. As such, economic sociology is concerned with how the system of material reproduction of a society (production, exchange, distribution, consumption) depends on the social and political structures and processes in that society and on those in other societies. Today, economic sociology usually focuses on modern, capitalist, industrial, ‘Western’ market economies.


Sociology of Work

In modern society, work is related to two major aspects. It has a relation to society, in that work is one of the most important mediums of social inclusion – first and foremost of inclusion in the economic system. Work provides individuals with income and entitlements with regard to the systems of social security. Inclusion in the economic system also is a factor through which work contributes to social inequalities. On this level of system formation, one can also observe a differentiation of labour markets, market and competitive structures and regulation models. In addition to being related to society (social organization of work), work has a relation to organizations. Work is performed primarily in organizations – mainly in organizations of the economic system, but also in organizations in other areas of society, such as law firms, tax offices or the Institute for Applied Ecology. On this level of system formation, the focus is on questions concerning the organizational shaping of the medium of work – for example, by setting working hours or by defining and allocating work-related tasks. The sociology of work is interested in transformations of work and in the interplay of social organization and the ways in which organizations shape the character of work.

Economic sociology and the sociology of work share some important similarities, in several different dimensions. They both study closely related subjects; they are based on similar theoretical approaches and use similar methods; they are concerned with similar and sometimes even the same subjects (labour markets, industrial relations, production regimes); and they draw on the same classics (e.g. Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Polanyi). These similarities, especially those concerning their focus, also make it possible to identify the different perspectives of each of these two sociological subdisciplines and thus to raise their specific profile. For concrete areas of focus of the Research and Teaching Unit in research and teaching.