Barbara Reskin


In the wake of the Industrial Revolution the social arrangements through which people do productive work have changed. Sometimes changes in the technology or organization of work sufficiently alter work practices so that they themselves are revolutionary. Most recently, microelectronic technological innovations, the globalization of work, and the development of multinational capital markets have had revolutionary consequences by permitting capital to achieve and hence to pursue unlimited profits. In the last decades of the twentieth century, this pursuit has ushered in such startling changes in employment practices that reimagining work has become a minor industry. Social scientists and management scholars predict the externalization of work and the erosion of the employer-employee relationship, and with them the elimination of jobs as we know them. The celebrants of these changes envision workers with the same goal as their employers-attaining enormous wealth-and the same chance to realize their goal. They imagine workers in the new economy as free agents who voluntarily string together a series of contractual exchanges of work for compensation into a career. In the process, and through investment markets and e-commerce, workers will supposedly achieve economic security, independent of a particular employer.

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