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An international political economy of work

Bringing fresh insights to the contemporary globalization debate, this text reveals the social and political contests that give ‘global’ its meaning, by examining the contested nature of globalization as it is expressed in the restructuring of work. The book rejects conventional explanations of globalization as a process that automatically leads to transformations in working lives, or as a project that is strategically designed to bring about lean and flexible forms of production, and advances an understanding of the social practices that constitute global change. Through case studies that span from the labour flexibility debates in Britain and Germany to the strategies and tactics of corporations and workers, it examines how globalization is interpreted and experienced in everyday life and argues that contestation has become a central feature of the practices that enable or confound global restructuring.

Open Access (free)

This chapter develops a typology that helps with thinking about the relationship between conceptions of globalisation and particular sets of interests in the framing of restructuring discourse. It considers the different perspectives on globalisation as distinctive constructions of knowledge that have significant implications for contemporary processes of restructuring. It advances a threefold typology of perspectives on globalisation, each of which has particular implications both for the study of global change and for the restructuring discourse that emerges in production and work.

in Globalisation contested

This chapter explores the conceptions of globalisation and restructuring on which the discourse of labour flexibility is based. It explores the particular representation of globalisation as an indomitable process that demands specific restructuring responses. The analysis focuses on five defining aspects of the process-centred view of globalisation: exogenous transformative forces, disciplinary imperatives, historical convergence, social prescription and the death of conflict. It argues that these guiding assumptions about the nature and form of contemporary social change have much in common with the modernisation thesis of the industrial society school. Rather than constituting a fundamental break with past practices, the global process model of social change has recast a set of ideas that are deployed to legitimate a programme of labour flexibilisation.

in Globalisation contested

This chapter examines the contribution that the field of IPE can make to raise the visibility of alternative politicised understandings of social change. In many senses, the field has defined itself in terms of its capacity to shed light on the dynamics of contemporary global social transformation. This chapter sketches out the parameters of the claims made by so-called ‘new IPE’ scholars, and analyses their departure from ‘orthodox’ IPE perspectives. There are further steps to be taken in prising open some of the doors that have been closed by dominant IPE ontologies, and the discussion outlines one of them here: an IPE of social practice. It proposes that such a perspective can reveal the politics and contingency of globalisation as it is characterised by contests over the reality and representation of social change.

in Globalisation contested
The restructuring of work in Britain

This chapter discusses the representation of globalisation underpinning British programmes of ‘hyperflexibility’ in the restructuring of work. It addresses the ‘national capitalisms’ debate, exploring the making of a distinctively British capitalism, and discussing the contemporary discursive remaking of a ‘global Britain’. It notes the use of the IPE of social practice to reveal the tensions and contradictions of British hyperflexibility.

in Globalisation contested
The restructuring of work in Germany

This chapter considers the restructuring debate taking place in German state-society. In popular and academic discourse, Germany is often presented either as a proving ground for globalisation or as a rebuttal to globalisation. This chapter argues that perceptions of the German relationship to globalisation, both inside and outside the state-society, are contradictory and contested. It explores the historical institutions and practices of state, capital and labour that have made possible particular programmes of restructuring in Germany. It also discusses the contemporary restructuring of working practices, revealing the dominant negotiated programme of ‘flexicorporatism’.

in Globalisation contested
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The restructuring of work and production in the international political economy

In the context of the globalisation of production, MNCs have been most commonly depicted as the key vehicles of global transformation. This chapter opens up the presumed unity of the MNC to explore the social power relationships that constitute this ‘global actor’. Defined in terms of the relationships between corporate managers, financiers, shareholders, suppliers and a diverse range of worker groups, the firm represents a site of contest in the ascription of meanings and realities of globalisation.

in Globalisation contested
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Unheard voices and invisible agency

This chapter extends the inquiry into the contested nature of restructuring in production and work by exploring the concrete everyday experiences of workers. In line with an IPE of social practice approach, the chapter explores the everyday practices of work that variously enable, contest or confound the emerging social relations of globalisation. This chapter takes the analysis of the restructuring of work beyond a discussion of the politics of states and firms, toward an increased visibility for the concrete experiences of workers who are differentially positioned in the IPE of work.

in Globalisation contested
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An international political economy of work

This book has engaged in some reflection on the dominant ways of thinking that have shaped IPE's research agenda. This chapter seeks to open up some of the potential terrain for alternative modes of knowledge of social change, and a discussion of the utility of the social practice perspective on work and related spheres of life. Ultimately, it argues that the meanings of globalisation and flexibility directly engage with the everyday lives of people. They do so differentially, unevenly and contradictorily, as they simultaneously seek to remove the grounds for politics, while also redrawing the lines of shared experience, solidarity, and identity.

in Globalisation contested