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The Employment Relationship: Some limitations of a useful concept (or what we can still learn from Hugh Clegg) Professor Peter Ackers Loughborough University.

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Presentation on theme: "The Employment Relationship: Some limitations of a useful concept (or what we can still learn from Hugh Clegg) Professor Peter Ackers Loughborough University."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Employment Relationship: Some limitations of a useful concept (or what we can still learn from Hugh Clegg) Professor Peter Ackers Loughborough University Business School

2 'Sociologists complain, at times, that social historians are insufficiently self-conscious as to their own conceptualization, and that they tend to offer their findings as particular findings, relevant only to their particular context, and are excessively cautious in making extended generalization. And social historians, of course, offer exactly the converse criticism: they sometimes find that sociologists are over-anxious to derive from particular evidence generalizations and typologies which are then translated to inappropriate contexts' (Thompson 1976: 387).

3 INTRODUCTION * the employment relationship is the new master concept in British IR theory * this represents a new radical pluralist conventional wisdom * which has displaced the 1970s debate between Pluralism & Marxism

4 THE PROBLEM * the concept of the employment relationship is useful, * as a Weberian ideal type way of looking at IR * BUT there are IDEOLOGICAL & METHODOLOGICAL objections to its over-extended use * first, it smuggles in universalist Marxist assumptions about power & conflict * second, it tries to use a generic sociological concept to explain what can only be explained by historical institutional analysis

5 * Here we can still learn from Hugh Clegg 'He is determined that his categories shall fit all instances, and provide the solution for every problem...The attempt to apply functional categories drawn from the cotton industry to geographical differences in mining seems to me to illuminate nothing and to obscure a good deal' (Clegg 1963, Review of HA Turner, p.227).

6 CHANGING DEFINITIONS OF IR Clegg and Flanders: The Systems of IR ( ) * so long as trade unions and collective bargaining were central institutions in British IR practice, the concept of the employment relationship was little used Fox: Beyond Contract (1974) Edwards: the Employment Relationship (1995 and 2003)

7 Blyton & Turnbull: The Dynamics of Employee Relations (2004) 'The activities of institutions, such as collective bargaining or other "rule-making processes", in fact arise from the employment relationship and cannot be understood in isolation from it. Thus trade union activity, first and foremost, is the organised expression of the grievances, deprivations and wider interests of employees that arise from their (subordinate) role in the process of good production or service provision...These activities can be grounded in a theory of the employment relationship' (pp.41-2). BUT the employment relationship doesn’t explain trade unions in the real world

8 LIMITATIONS OF THE EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIP 'The employer-employee or, as British law put it for so long, the master-servant relationship is one of acute imbalance. The employer possesses the economic power. The right of hire and fire, remuneration levels, working hours, work practices, indeed all facets of life at the workplace have been at the disposal and control of the employer in a society such as our' (Jenkins & Sherman, 1977: 1). 1. The Neo-Liberal Objection 2. The Professional Society Objection 3. The Trade Cycle Objection 4. The Varieties of Capitalism Objection 5 The Flexible Labour Market Objection


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