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ISBN: 978-1-42983-462-9

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Indexing Subjects

1. Sociology 2. Organizational Behavior

First Edition
Taylorism, Fordism & Post-Fordism
PD Casteel


In 1878, a young American engineer named Frederick Winslow Taylor

(1856-1915) moved his apprenticeship to the Midvale steel works on the
industrial fringes of Philadelphia. The Midvale workers were paid piece-
meal. Ideally, this meant that the more a worker produced the more they
got paid. In practice this meant that each time a worker earned too much,
in the eyes of the employer, the piecemeal rate would be cut for all workers
(Donkin, 2001). The result was that workers began to harmonize their
efforts to limit production and produce only enough to prevent further
cuts and stay out of ‘trouble.’ Taylor was amazed at the level of creativ-
ity, expertise, and labor that went into achieving this golden mean of un-
productivity. At first he began to address the problems at Midvale in a
traditional manner: he fired unproductive employees. When the new em-
ployees were equally as unproductive he cut the piecemeal rate. This only
entrenched the Midvale workers deeper into the behaviors Taylor was at-
tempting to break down. When Taylor turned to management for support
he found he could not sway the “old hand” that his new ideas would work
(Donkin, 2001).

If Taylor was going to change the behavior of the workforce he had to better
understand the work processes in order to sway management. With the
approval ownership he began a series of scientific experiments of breaking

4 Sociology Reference Guide

down the processes of the plant into smaller simple tasks and using a stop-
watch (the latest technology) to record the time of performing a task in
various ways. These experiments, though not the first of their kind, would
become the basis of new work practices at Midvale, two books of scientific
management and the beginning of modern business management.

Henry Ford (1863-1947) was the founder of Ford Motor Company. His
big idea was that work, previously conceived of as only a sustenance act,
could be improved with technology to become the mechanism that set
people free to live their own lives (Donkin, 2001; Ford & Crowther, 2005).
At the core of this thinking was that manufacturing should be efficient
enough and workers paid enough that a worker could afford to purchase
the products they produce. Ford believed a degree of prosperity should
come from a workers “honest effort” (Ford & Crowther, 2005). How Ford
developed the practice of mass production did make it possible for a Ford
assembly line worker to afford the purchase of a Ford automobile. It also
changed how products were produced, workers were trained and worked,
and how management functioned.

For nearly a century Taylorism and Fordism combined to construct the

predominant rules of production and manufacturing employment in
America. Large companies used well paid employees performing re-
petitive fairly simple tasks on assembly lines to produce complex though
largely standard products. This formula not only created affordable
products for the American market, but also created the consumer class that
these products needed to be profitable. The expansion of American pros-
perity, previously isolated to the industrial barons of the late nineteenth
century, was shared with more people than ever before and the American
middle class expanded rapidly.

Unfortunately, capitalism and the Taylorism/Fordism paradigm did

have its shortcomings. As Marx predicted, capitalism has its periods of
crisis. One of these crises is recessions and depressions. The American
depression was devastating to manufacturers and workers. It really
isn’t surprising that the depression was followed by an era of regulation.
American employers and workers wanted some assurance that such a total
collapse wouldn’t happen again. Another crisis emerged when large man-
ufacturing companies started to back-track on the Ford’s idea that workers

The Social Organization of Work 5

should be paid well. The response to this crisis was the rise of the American
worker’s unions. Unions helped workers ensure a living wage and job sta-
bility. However, with the demise of unions in the late part of the twentieth
century and the “interchangeability” of low paid unskilled workers the
American economy faced another crisis, one of the contradictions of capi-
talism, of which Marx warned (Friedman, 1961). As companies cut back
on workers wages in order to make greater profits, workers became less
capable of purchasing the products they produced. This meant the market
for goods produced would shrink. The response to this crisis has been
to globalize production. In this way lower wages are moved to another
consumer market in which the wages are relatively high.

In turn, America and other Western post-industrial countries have devel-

oped new service industries, including the enormous financial industry, to
provide new jobs and strengthen the consumer pool. In a very real sense
this is just a way of deferring the contradiction of capitalism until a time
that the rest of the world’s labor markets mature. Today, regulation, the
rise of globalism, and the rising service sector in Western economies are all
part of a prevailing economic system known as Post-Fordism.


Taylorism, also called scientific management, was an approach to replace

management-worker conflict and low worker productivity with scien-
tific re-design of supervision and work. Taylorism was the beginning of
systematic study of work in industry. Taylor championed the role of the
engineer who could study processes by breaking them down into smaller
tasks, observing, timing, and re-engineering work in order to create the
single best way to accomplish a task. Since the process was arrived at
through a scientific approach, Taylor believed this would reduce friction
between management and workers (Marshall, 1998). Taylor successfully
implemented scientific management in a number of places. Perhaps his
most famous successes came at Bethlehem Steel where he re-engineered
the process for shoveling coal and loading steel. Not only did Taylor strive
for better productivity, but he also argued that workers should be given
periodic rests in order to keep productivity high, and that workers should

6 Sociology Reference Guide

be paid better (Donkin, 2001). Ultimately, Taylorism is control of labor.
Through incentive pay, controlled movements, time studies, and standard
setting, Taylorism is most closely associated with direct control of produc-
tion labor (Krier, 2006).

The basic elements of Taylorism are:

• Scientifically analyzing tasks and developing a standard

process, and standard level of performance for each task.
• Hire and train the employee with the right abilities for the
• Enable workers to be successful by planning, training, and
providing the rests and tools needed to do their jobs
• Provide wage incentives for increase productivity
• Put engineers in charge of the processes managers super-
vise and workers perform

Standardization includes rules, job descriptions, chain of command, work

processes, documentation of processes, and expected levels of production.
Taylor believed that written documentation of each task helped created a
“joint effort” between management and worker (Taylor, 1911). The written
instructions also included time limits and incentive pay to be received
when time goals were met. Taylor was careful to state that the time limits
were not unreasonable and that the instructions were only to prepare the
worker to succeed so they could enjoy a long productive and prosperous
years of not being over worked. Taylor also was concerned about jobs
being passed from one employee to another. He described how a “green
employee” could come into a business and pick up the essentials of a new
job with the guidance of management because of the history and memory
that good work documentation supplied.

The practice of documentation has remained in place in business. In

addition to providing the standardization, productivity, and memory that
Taylor envisioned, documentation also provides standards for treating
employees fairly and a degree of legal protection.

The Social Organization of Work 7

Hiring the Right Worker for the Job

Taylor believed that scientific management provided a structure that was

unequaled in training and supporting workers as well as a mechanism
for recognizing the performance of top workers. Taylor believed good
managers matched the employees’ abilities with the right jobs and the con-
tinual measurement of performance allowed the best workers to rise to the
top faster (Taylor, 1911). The idea of getting the right worker in the right
job has been revived in the immensely popular book by Jim Collins From
Good to Great (2001). Collins has adapted Taylor’s idea to incorporate an
element that Taylor did not practice. That is, given how difficult it is to
find good employees, that management should not simply fire a struggling
employee but see if moving that employee to a different job can spark a

Support Workers with Planning & Training

Taylor saw the role of job planning and training as management’s support
for the worker. Breaking down of complex jobs into simple tasks, engi-
neering of these tasks, documenting the processes of the task, and training
the employees was all a part of Taylor’s vision. This may be one of the
areas where Taylor’s critics disagree with him most. It can be argued that
this support has striped work of its more interesting elements and the re-
petitive nature of work has made it less safe.

Taylor also believed in order to get more productivity managers must give
workers incentives “beyond that of the average of the trade” (Taylor, 1911).

Further, Taylor argued in The Principles of Scientific Management that

management “is a true science, resting upon clearly defined laws, rules,
and principles…and are applicable to all kinds of human activities” (1911).
He considered this new science in the realm of engineers. Being a mechan-
ical engineer himself, Taylor was painting a picture of businesses being
run by engineers.


Henry Ford had a number of failures before he hit upon the right formula
at Ford Motor Company. His biggest challenge at Edison, Detroit Auto-
mobile Company, and Henry Ford Motor Company was how to produce

8 Sociology Reference Guide

an affordable automobile. It wasn’t until he tried again at the Ford Motor
Company that he found the prescription for success. Ford introduced new
ideas that increased productivity and lowered the costs of manufacturing
an automobile. To balance the innovations, Ford paid his employees a
higher rate so that they could also afford to buy a new Ford automobile.
Ford would later describe the revolutionary changes in manufacturing at
Ford as substantiated by something quite elemental in every person; the
desire for regularity and routine (Ford, & Crowther, 2005). What Ford in-
troduced at the Ford motor company was known as Fordism. The primary
elements of Fordism are:

• Division of labor or specialization

• Parts standardization
• Organizing the sequence of production
• The moving assembly line

Fordism continued the process of breaking down complex jobs into smaller
simpler tasks started by Taylorism. How Fordism differed from Taylorism
was in the sequential organization of jobs and the integration of these new
deskilled tasks into the moving assembly line. Fordism created highly re-
petitive jobs in a fast moving assembly line. Because the next job could not
be performed until the previous job had been completed, the pressure on
workers to keep the line moving was intense.

Fordism extended the Taylorism concept of standardization to parts. By

making all parts going into an automobile identical, the productivity of the
assembly line remained high. Ford spun off new companies to build the
standardized parts Ford Motor Company needed. Perhaps no other part
of Fordism pays a higher tribute to Taylorism’s than the vertical engineer-
ing process employed by the Ford Motor Company.

Sequential Production

Ford organized production in a sequential order. Machines which had

previously been grouped together to take advantage central sources of
electricity were moved into long assembly lines to increase productivity
in the production process. With machines, parts, and workers order se-

The Social Organization of Work 9

quentially in the production process the time taken to move partially con-
structed automobiles and parts was reduced.

Fordism took the assembly line one step further. Ford utilized a linear
moving assembly line. As an automobile moved through the line, workers
and machines added standard parts at each station. Parts were delivered
to the stations along the line where workers took their turn adding each
part in order.


Post-Fordism describes prevailing systems of economic production in the

world today. Post-Fordism takes into consideration recent changes in the
economies of Western post-industrial countries. Where Fordism assumed
local manufacturing, local consumer markets, and a local economy based
on manufacturing, Post-Fordism encompasses global supply chains, global
markets, and Western economies based on service and financial indus-
tries. Post-Fordism also takes into consideration changes in consumerism
brought on by the desire of consumers for greater product diversity and
increased use of regulation by governments to protect national economies,
businesses, communities, and workers.

The chief elements of Post-Fordism are:

• The rapid rise of information technologies

• Emphasis on consumer types instead of class
• Flexible manufacturing
• Global supply chain
• Regulation
• The rise of the service and financial sectors
• Feminization of the workplace
• Globalization
Information Technologies

The rise of information technologies has not only changed the way tradi-
tional companies do business, but has given consumers more information
about products. The global connectivity of computers has connected com-

10 Sociology Reference Guide

panies, workers, and consumers in new networks. Smaller companies can
now compete with larger companies by reaching consumers too expen-
sive to reach in the past. Workers can work in collaboration with workers
across geographical expanses and national borders. Technology makes it
possible to manage decentralized and fragmented processes and gives rise
to a new class of technology workers (Monahan, 2005). This type of work
was once considered too expensive and untimely for companies. Consum-
ers can now shop for products all over the world. No longer having to
settle for standard products consumers can now use technology to find
products that are unique and affordable.

Consumer Types

Post-Fordism moves marketing beyond class and into consumer types.

Instead of simply marketing a product to an economic class of people who
can afford the product, companies now focus on consumers gender, age,
values, interests, and buying habits. Car makers don’t simply produce an
expensive and an inexpensive model. Car makers produce cars for young
consumers, environmental conscious consumers, outdoorsmen, consumers
wanted to express economic status, and families with small children. The
number of consumer types is limitless and constantly evolving. Changes
in the economy and trends in culture create new consumer types all the
time. The ability of companies to adjust to these changes is critical in their

Flexible Manufacturing

In order to exploit the ever changing consumer types and their demands,
companies must be able to be flexible. Flexible manufacturing, also called
flexible specialization, is the process where companies build complex
manufacturing processes that can produce diverse product lines targeted
at different consumer types. The production processes must be able to
change as consumer needs and desires change. Flexible manufacturing
also means a flexible workforce. This may actually work better in Europe
than America. In America a flexible workforce often includes the idea
of a job with no access to disability and healthcare (Derber, 2000). Some
scholars argue that the flexible organization model fails when applied to
organizations that demand some autonomy and creativity to deliver their
product or service (Brehony, & Deem, 2005).

The Social Organization of Work 11

Global Supply Chain

In the place of the manufacturing assembly line, more and more companies
are turning to global supply chains. A global supply chain is a network of
producers, manufacturers, distributors, transporters, storage facilities and
suppliers that provide retailers with a product to sell. An example of the
global supply chain is Dell, the world’s second largest computer maker.
Dell uses 30 key parts in every computer they sell. For each key part, Dell
has multiple vendors that can make the part to their exact specifications.
In order to insure that local politics, economies, and natural disasters affect
Dell’s ability to deliver their product, Dell requires that no vendors produc-
ing the same part can be located in the same country. Though a computer
may be built at any one of Dell’s six manufacturing sites, the parts are
manufactured worldwide and a single computer may contain parts from
over twenty different countries (Friedman, 2006).


Regulation has in no small way saved capitalism (Agger, 2004). Regula-

tion has corrected many of the flaws of capitalism. These corrections were
not imagined by Marx, who predicted the crisis of capitalism would even-
tually lead Western economies to communism. Instead, regulations have
kept capitalism vibrant. Government regulations are used to controlling
monetary policy, banking, trade, product safety, pollutions, and fair adver-
tising. Regulation protects companies and consumers. On occasion, the
government will step in and prop up a company or industry temporarily
while new regulations are put in place and the economy can recover. This
was done after the 1929 Stock Market Crash, during the Great Depression,
after World War II, for Chrysler in 1979, and in 2008 for a number of financial
institutions. What Mark didn’t foresee was how a government could use
regulation as well as welfare to contradict the contradictions of capitalism.

Service & Financial Industries

Another aspect of the modern economy not imagined by classical econo-

mist like Adam Smith and Karl Marx is the rise of the service and finan-
cial sectors. Smith and Marx saw the core of a modern economy anchored
in manufacturing. Globalization has allowed countries and companies to
outsource manufacturing to cheaper labor markets in foreign countries. In
turn, local economies in prosperous post-industrial nations develop strong

12 Sociology Reference Guide

service sectors. In America, this includes financial institutions, healthcare,
hospitality, and numerous other professional as well as unskilled service
sectors. One of the fastest growing service sectors over the last fifty years
have been financial industries. The industry has garnered impressive
growth and profits by managing, selling, and often re-selling banking, fi-
nancing, credit, derivatives, and insurance.

Feminization of the Workplace

The growing number of women in the workplace has also influenced Post-
Fordism because so many of the assumptions in Taylorism and Fordism
relied on a masculine ideal type as worker and sole provider for a family.
The needs of women workers differ from those of their male counterparts
and the skill sets they bring to the workforce are often different. In America
the busting up of unions, the de-skilling of manufacturing jobs, and the
outsourcing of entire industries combined with the rise of management
jobs in the service industry, which require greater communicative and
social skills and less brawn, has advantage women over men in obtaining
jobs that pay a working-class or lower-middle class wage. Additionally,
the feminization of the human resource jobs and the hiring process has
lead to more women being hired in these industries (Fernandez, & Mors,
2005). Women still earn less than men, but the types of good jobs being
created in America in the new economy more often go to women than men.


Globalization is the transformation of business and culture from local

communities to a multinational environment. Globalization has opened
up new markets of consumers for businesses and new companies and
products for consumers. Additionally, globalization has created new op-
portunities for companies to manufacture products in new countries that
can supply high quality and relatively low wage workers. This decentral-
ization of manufacturing, flexible specialization in manufacturing, global
workforces, and global markets are all aspects of Post-Fordism globaliza-
tion (Gottfried, 1995).


Economies are constantly changing. Taylorism and Fordism were radi-

cally new ideas in their time, and elements of these ideologies remain influ-

The Social Organization of Work 13

ential in today’s modern economies. Post-Fordism explains how modern
economies have moved past rigid calculated methodologies of Taylorism
and Fordism and adapted to the new global environment. These changes
are not complete. What comes next will probably be something not com-
pletely imagined by today’s economists. However, it’s unlikely that it will
be free from economic ideologies of the past. It’s a good bet that elements
of Taylorism, Fordism, and Post-Fordism will remain.

Agger, B. (2004). Speeding up fast capitalism: Culture jobs families schools bodies.
Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Brehony, K., & Deem, R. (2005). Challenging the post-Fordist/flexible organization
thesis: The case of reformed educational organizations. British Journal
of Sociology of Education, 26(3), 395-414. Retrieved September 2, 2008
from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text:
Derber, C. (2000). Corporation nation: How corporations are taking over our lives – and
what we can do about it. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Donkin, R. (2001). Blood, sweat, & tears: The evolution of work. New York, TEXERE, LLC.
Fernandez, R.M., & Mors, M.L. (2005). Gendering jobs: Networks and queues in the hiring
process. Conference Papers: American Sociological Association; 2005 Annual Meeting,
Philadelphia, p. 1-25. Retrieved September 2, 2008 from EBSCO online database
SocINDEX with Full Text:
Ford, H., & Crowther, S. (2005). My life and work. New York: Cosimo Books, Inc.
Gottfried, H. (1995). Developing Neo-Fordism: A comparative perspective. Critical
Sociology, 21(3), 39 -70. Retrieved September 2, 2008 from EBSCO online database
SocINDEX with Full Text:
Krier, D. (2006). Taylorism’s irrationalities: Profitability as constraint on Scientific
Management. Conference Papers. American Sociological Association; 2006 Annual
Meeting, Montreal, 1-22. Retrieved September 2, 2008 from EBSCO online database
SocINDEX with Full Text:
Marshall, G. (Ed.). (1998). A dictionary of sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Monahan, T. (2005). The school system as a post-fordist organization: Fragmented
centralization and the emergence of IT specialists. Critical Sociology, 31(4), 583-615.
Retrieved September 2, 2008 from EBSCO online database SocINDEX with Full Text:

14 Sociology Reference Guide

Taylor, F.W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. Norwood, MA: Plimpton

Suggested Reading
Amin, A. (1995). Post-Fordism: A reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
Davidson, E. (2005). The assembly line. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Pruit, H. (1997). Job design and technology: Taylorism vs. Anti-Taylorism. New York:

The Social Organization of Work 15

Labor Theory: Division of Labor
Simone I. Flynn


Labor refers to physical, mental or creative efforts exerted to complete a

task or project. Beginning in the 19th century, jobs and labor in factories,
production facilities and households were divided into specialized job
tasks. The specialization process, in which the total labor is divided among
categories of people, is termed the division of labor. Sociologists study the
division of labor that occurs within capitalist societies, between nations
and within households. Types of division of labor include task specializa-
tion, geographic division of labor and gender division of labor. Particular
areas of inquiry include the ways in which division of labor and job spe-
cialization are related to power, control and efficiency (Harvey & Saint-
Germain, 2001).

This article explores the sociology of specialized labor practices in three

parts: An overview of the main types of division of labor; a discussion
of classical labor theories; and an explanation of the debate surrounding
division of labor practices in modern society. The issues associated with
using division of labor as a means of control and domination are also ad-
dressed. Understanding the role that the division of labor plays in social
life is vital background for all those interested in the sociology of work and
the economy.

16 Sociology Reference Guide

Types of Division of Labor

Sociologists recognize that labor is divided in many different settings and

for many different reasons. There are three main types of division of labor

• Task/work specialization;
• Geographic division of labor;
• Gender division of labor.
Task/Work Specialization

Work specialization refers to the division of work-related responsibilities

into wholly different, discrete and often isolated jobs. Commonly under-
stood as the division of labor, work specialization separates the produc-
tion process into discrete compartments and tasks. Work specialization
produces different levels of profit and competitive trade advantage among
the private, public and military sectors (Mittleman, 1995). Task specializa-
tion, which began during the industrial era, increases organizational ef-
ficiency and profitability; however, specialized jobs require highly specific
training which may or may not be transferable to different professions
or industries. Examples of task specialization include medical specializa-
tion and assembly line production. Factors that effect task specialization
include organizational need, circumstance, gender, class, education and
leadership (Spengler, 1970).

Geographic Division of Labor

Geographic division of labor, also referred to as international division of

labor, refers to the tendency of certain nations to be responsible for the
production of specific materials. The geographic division of labor is a
macro economic process that occurs worldwide and differs from regional
labor patterns which refer to the concentration of economic relations into
regional blocks. The geographic division of labor depends on the growing
trend of economic globalization, or, the process of economic and cultural
integration around the world caused by changes in technology, commerce,
and politics. The global economy (an economy characterized by growth of
nations, both in populations and in output and consumption per capita,
interdependence of nations, and international management efforts) and
global markets (economic markets of countries and regions open to foreign

The Social Organization of Work 17

trade and investment) affect the division of labor. The geographic division
of labor has important consequences for research, politics and economics.

Marxist theorists tend to be particularly interested in the geographic

division of labor due to the potential for one nation or region to economi-
cally dominate, subjugate or enslave another region or group. Examples
of interest to such theorists would be Brazilian women working on sugar
plantations and Asian women working in manufacturing who work under
difficult conditions and for extremely low wages.

There are two main theories of geographic division of labor: Dependency

theory and regulation theory.

• Dependency theory refers to the idea that the geographic

division of labor reflects past colonial links.
• Regulation theory refers to the idea that the development
of capitalism, and related division of labor, resulted from
successive regimes including competition, international,
monetary, state and wage relations (Harvey & Saint-Ger-
main, 2001).
Gender Division of Labor

Gender division of labor refers to the practice of directing men and women
to certain tasks and forbidding them to perform other tasks based on their
gender. A gender-based division of labor became common in the 20th
century as a result of industrialization and the necessity of paid work
outside the home. Factors that affect the gender division of labor include:

• Organizational culture;
• Individual gender;
• Cultural background;
• Ethnicity;
• Education.

The household division of labor (common across classes and cultures)

is one often-studied area of gender-based division of labor. Household
labor refers to unpaid work performed to support family members and the
home. Emotional support and work is not generally included in conceptu-
alizations of household labor.

18 Sociology Reference Guide

In American society, researchers suggest that men, as a group, do between
20 and 30 percent of household labor. Industrialization and labor-saving
devices such as vacuums and mass-produced cleaning products, which
became common in the 20th century, changed household divisions of labor
in modern societies. Researchers study household labor through the use
of time diaries and direct questions. Socialist and Marxist feminists argue
that the household division of labor is balanced to favor and privilege men
and capitalist society and that men and capitalist society as a whole control
women’s labor in the household. However, the women’s movement of the
1960s and 1970s changed the gender division of labor in Western nations
(Shelton & John, 1996).

Further Insights
Classical Labor Theories

The concept of work, as a practice to be manipulated for increased efficien-

cy, was born during the industrial era in Europe. Division of labor became
common in industrial settings concerned with worker efficiency (the ratio
of total input to effective output). The industrial era, approximately 1750-
1900, was a time characterized by the replacement of manual labor with in-
dustrialized and mechanized labor and the adoption of the factory system
of production. During this period, industry and trade eclipsed farming
and agriculture as regional sources of income and the economic system
of capitalism was promoted (Ahmad, 1997). Due to an increased need for
workers, this era led to the creation of a new working class, middle class,
and consumer class. The factory system of production, with its separation
from the domestic setting, created a divide between work and home life.
In addition, the factory system of production, as seen in textile mills for
example, reinforced and maintained class relations by establishing a hier-
archical and supervised workforce (Mellor, 2003).

During the industrial era, classical social scientists worked to understand

the changes they saw happening in the relationship between the individu-
al, government, business and society. Classical social scientists, particular-
ly in response to the changes in labor and society, made significant contri-
butions to labor theory, organizational theory and management theory. In
particular, Frederick Taylor, Emile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber
all developed classical labor theories which became the foundation for
modern ideas about the division of labor and job specification.

The Social Organization of Work 19

Frederick Taylor

Frederick Taylor (1856-1950), an engineer, is considered to be the founder

of scientific management. Scientific management, or “Taylorism,” refers
to a theory that uses the scientific method to study the management and
efficiency of workers. Taylor’s works “The Principles of Scientific Manage-
ment” (1911) and “Lecture on Management” focus on increasing efficiency
and loss control management (1907). Taylor also developed the concept of
functional foremanship which refers to a system for dividing a foreman’s
job duties into many specialized tasks each assigned to a different individ-
ual. Taylor’s theory of functional foremanship had significant influence on
the division of labor in organizations. For instance, job duties increasingly
became divided into supervisor and worker roles. Skilled craftspeople and
apprentices have became scarce work roles over the past century.

As a result of this organization style, Taylor believed that worker efficien-

cy could be increased through job subdivision and specialization. Taylor
based his theories of job subdivision and specialization on research con-
ducted in active factories and manufacturing plants. For example, Taylor is
well-known for his 1899 study of the pig iron loading process at the Bethle-
hem Iron Company. Taylor recommended that the company adopt a piece-
rate system to benefit the company and create more efficient workers. This
study became the foundation for job observations, work standards and the
concept of a day’s work. Taylor’s work on division of labor and job sub-
division and specialization has significantly influenced modern organiza-
tions and professions. For instance, few modern jobs or professions require
or allow a worker to engage in the development of a product or idea from
start to finish. In addition, Taylor’s notion of a day’s work remains preva-
lent across businesses and industries (Bahnisch, 2000).

Adam Smith

Adam Smith (1723-1790), who is considered to be the father of capital-

ism, first described the system of capitalism in his work “The Wealth of
Nations” (1776). Smith’s work is considered to be the first significant effort
to explain the division of labor which began to emerge during the 18th
century. Smith recognized the economic advantages of work specializa-
tion. He foresaw the connection between the rise of industrialization and
the productivity advantage of division of labor and believed that the “in-

20 Sociology Reference Guide

visible hand of competition” was the best regulator of the economy. Indus-
trial production replaced artisans and skilled craftsmen as the productivity
of a labor force eclipsed the effort of individual workers in importance.
Smith believed that the new division of labor and increased productivity
would raise standards of living and compensate for any loss felt by indi-
viduals and society at large (Mittelman, 1995).

Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim (1855-1917) was a French sociologist concerned with the

problem of the individual and society as well as issues of solidarity and
social cohesion. Over the course of his life, Durkheim moved from a macro
focus on structural processes to a micro focus on social, psychological,
and interpersonal processes such as co-presence, ritual, interaction, and
emotional arousal. To learn how individuals related to society, he studied
the social structure, societal norms, laws, community, groups and societal
roles in French society. In his research, Durkehim looked for the causes
and functions of social phenomena. Durkheim’s work “The Division of
Labor in Society” (1893) established his perspective on labor specialization
and summarizes Durkheim’s perspective on society and social develop-
ment. Durkheim’s argument for division of labor or specialization is based
on the notion that individuals have individual capacities that should be de-
veloped. According to Durkheim, specialization increases possibilities for
interdependence and organic solidarity provides opportunity for develop-
ment of talents and complex social interactions. Durkheim’s division of
labor is based on moral rather than biological imperatives (Sirianni, 1984).
The sociologist intended his theory of the division of labor to be limited to
advanced societies (Perrin, 1995).

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883), a German philosopher and economist, was one

of the first scholars to identify society as a system of social relationships.
Marx studied processes of worker alienation and objectification. Marx’s
theories of worker alienation and objectification contributed to the belief
that division of labor and specialization created dissatisfied and angry
workers. According to Marx, division of labor caused human workers
to take on the anonymous role performed by machines. Marx believed
that division of labor should only be used for limited periods of time and

The Social Organization of Work 21

when other organizational options are not available. Marx advocated and
promoted full rather than divided production as a means of created social
cohesion and harmony.

Marx made a distinction between technical division of labor and social

division. Technical division of labor refers to the sometimes-inevitable
division of labor required in the production of materials. In contrast, social
division of labor refers to the choice on the part of management or owners
to institute division of labor practices as a means of social, class and status
control. Marx believed that all division of labor was a social construct and
should be understood as such and that economics, capitalism and pro-
duction were the major forces of society. Marx argued that the system of
capitalism that emerged in the industrial era created societies in which the
increasing value of the material world devalues people and society. Marx
believed the history of human society was primarily shaped by economic
conflict between owners and laborers. He worked to find how the disen-
franchised could create social change to improve their social and finan-
cial situations. Social change, according to Marx, could only occur through
challenges to the power of the dominant classes (Yuill, 2005).

Max Weber

Max Weber (1864-1920), a German politician, historian, economist, and

sociologist dedicated to the study of religion, is considered one of the
founders of sociology. Weber studied the meanings people attach to their
social environments and daily lives. During the 19th century, Germany,
Weber’s country of birth, underwent extreme socio-political change as the
country moved from separate states to a unified nation state. The politi-
cal turmoil combined with the urbanization, reform and industrialization
that spread across Europe made Germany rich ground for sociological
investigation and analysis. Weber chose to study authority and power in
German organizations as a means of understanding the social tensions he
saw around him. His classical theory of organization focused on organiza-
tional bureaucracy. Weber established a set of rules that defined both how
an organization should function and who should be a part of the organiza-
tion. Weber’s classical theory of organization, his ideal bureaucracy, was
an organization characterized by specialized division of labor, hierarchy
of authority, impersonality, written rules of conduct, promotion based on
achievement and efficiency.

22 Sociology Reference Guide

Weber warned his country that the owners and bosses of bureaucratic or-
ganizations, who were largely self-appointed leaders with great social, po-
litical, and economic power, could and would control the quality of life
of workers. In addition to his work on authority and power in organiza-
tions, Weber made significant contributions to the field of rural sociology.
Weber studied rural populations and contemporary rural problems such
as labor-landowner relations and the divide between industrial and agri-
cultural workers, to document and understand the change brought about
by industrialization and urbanization (Munters, 1972).


Workers, businesses, academics and governments debate the effect and

purpose of division of labor practices. Supporters of division of labor prac-
tices argue that work specialization, whether the division of labor occurs
in households or internationally, is necessary for economic growth. In
contrast, critics of division of labor argue that employers use division of
labor practices to exert control over workers, labor processes and wages.
In many instances, division of labor results in the de-skilling of workers.
Business owners and managers may assign certain jobs or tasks to ethnic
minorities or women knowing that these groups will accept lower wages.
The division between mental and physical labor is believed to exert control
over workers by keeping workers ignorant of larger work processes and
flow. In addition, the division of labor reduces opportunities for collective
action on the part of workers.

Modern organizations are increasingly moving away from the task spe-
cialization and division of labor that characterized industrial-era society
and work environments. For instance, team models of work relationships
and practice became common in the 1990s. Work teams refer to groups
of individuals who work cooperatively to achieve common goals through
completion of job tasks that are specific to their team. Teams vary from tra-
ditional organizational structures in multiple ways. Work teams represent
the organizational change from hierarchical to flat or horizontal organiza-
tion. Work teams tend to be autonomous, interdisciplinary, non-hierarchi-
cal and cooperative rather than hierarchical and specialized. In modern
businesses, such as information-technology firms, self-managed work
teams are responsible for managing themselves, assigning jobs, schedul-
ing work and production time and problem-solving (Kirkman et al, 2000).

The Social Organization of Work 23

Critics suggest that those groups, organizations and nations that continue
to engage in highly divided or specialized labor practices rather than adopt
new organizational models, such as work teams, may be doing so in part
as an attempt to exert control over disenfranchised groups such as women
and ethnic minorities. The division of labor within capitalist societies con-
tinues to be negotiated between business and government. Examples of
business-government relations that facilitate continued division of labor
include cartels, networks of firms and industry associations, state indus-
trial policies, selective business taxation, state-owned industries and trade
policies. Critics of division of labor practices associate division of labor
with capitalist domination, political manipulation, exploitation, control,
power and subjugation (Gough & Eisenschitz, 1997).


In the final analysis, the division of labor, into specialized tasks and between
different groups of people, is directly linked to the rise of industrialization
and capitalism in modern societies. The division of labor into specialized
tasks allows for increased efficiency and profitability. Sociologists explore
the ways in which the division of labor may be used as a means of exerting
power and control over disenfranchised groups. Understanding the role
that the division of labor plays in social life is vital background for all those
interested in the sociology of work and the economy.

Ahmad, I. (1997). Emergence of sociology and its relationship with social sciences.
Employment News, 22(1), 1-3.
Bahnisch, M. (2000). Embodied work, divided labour: Subjectivity and the scientific
management of the body in Frederick W. Taylor’s 1907 ‘Lecture on Management’. Body
& Society, 6(1), 51. Retrieved October 11, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic
Search Premier.
Gough, J., & Eisenschitz, A. (1997). The division of labour, capitalism and socialism: An
alternative to Sayer. International Journal of Urban & Regional Research, 21(1), 23-37.
Retrieved October 11, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier.
Harvey, J., & Saint-Germain, M. (2001). Sporting goods trade, international division of
labor, and the unequal hierarchy of nations. Sociology of Sport Journal, 18(2), 231-246.

24 Sociology Reference Guide

Retrieved October 15, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier.
Kirkman, B., Jones, R., & Shapiro, D. (2000). Why do employees resist teams? Examining
the resistance barriers to work effectives. International Journal of Conflict Management,
11(1), 74. Retrieved October 11, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search
Kirkpatrick, S. (1999). The achievements of ‘General Ludd’: A brief history of the Luddites.
The Ecologist, 29(5), 310-313.
Mellor, I. (2005). Space, society and the textile mill. Industrial Archaeology Review, 27(1),
49-56. Retrieved October 11, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search
Mittelman, J. (1995). Rethinking the international division of labour in the context of
globalisation. Third World Quarterly, 16(2), 273-295. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from
EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier.
Munters, Q. (1972). Max Weber as rural sociologist. Sociologia Ruralis, 12(2), 129-147.
Retrieved October 11, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier.
Perrin, R. (1995). Emile Durkheim’s division of labor and the shodow of Herbert Soencer.
Sociological Quarterly, 36(4), 791-808. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from EBSCO Online
Database Academic Search Premier.
Shelton, B., & John, D. (1996). The division of household labor. Annual Review of Sociology,
22(1), 299. Retrieved October 10, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search
Silver, A. (1990). Friendship in commercial society: Eighteenth-century social theory and
modern sociology. American Journal of Sociology, 95(6), 1474-1505. Retrieved October
11, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier. http://search.
Sirianni, C. (1984). Justice and the division of labour: a reconsideration of Durkheim’s
Division of Labour in Society. Sociological Review, 32(3), 449-470. Retrieved October
10, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier. http://search.
Spengler, J. (1970). Cost of specialization in a service economy. Social Science Quarterly
(Southwestern Social Sciences Association), 51(2), 237-262.
Yuill, C. (2005). Marx: Capitalism, alienation and health. Social Theory & Health, 3(2), 126-

The Social Organization of Work 25

Suggested Reading
Lavee, Y., & Katz, R. (2002). Division of labor, perceived fairness, and marital quality: The
effect of gender ideology. Journal of Marriage & Family, 64(1), 27-39. Retrieved October
10, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database Academic Search Premier. http://search.
Sorokin, P. (1929). Some contrasts of contemporary European and American sociology.
Social Forces, 8(1), 57-62. Retrieved October 11, 2008, from EBSCO Online Database
SocINDEX with Full Text.
Swingewood, A. (1970). Origins of sociology: the case of the Scottish Enlightenment. British
Journal of Sociology, 21(2), 164-180. Retrieved October 11, 2008, from EBSCO Online
Database Academic Search Premier.

26 Sociology Reference Guide

Work in the Post Industrial World
Sharon Link

Post Industrial Societies

Daniel Bell was the initial proponent of the idea of the post industrial
society promoting the idea through his book entitled: The Coming of Post
Industrial Society. After experiencing and analyzing the radical societal
changes brought on by the 1960s, Bell (1973) argued that a radical transfor-
mation of economic and political structures was underway in societies like
the United States. He further indicated that changes in occupational struc-
ture, demographic patterns, and government funding to science and edu-
cation would precipitate a shift to a society where theoretical knowledge
was central and experts would be the primary advisors to government and
business (Townsley, 2000, p. 739). This theory supported an earlier notion
that the importance of academics, scientists, and professional experts in
government would continue to grow and this idea was echoed in a wide
range of scholarly work that was written and published at the time (p. 741).

Bell was the catalyst for three substantive ideas including the end of
ideology, the post industrial society, and the cultural contradictions of
capitalism. All three of these ideas merged into a collective notion that
seems to underscore society’s present condition, not only in the United
States, but in other highly developed nations, as well. Bell argued in 1955
that party politics was entering a phase in which it would no longer be

The Social Organization of Work 27

governed by extremist ideologies of the left and right, but would instead
require a mixed economy, a welfare state, and liberal democracy. Bell’s
later work proposed that the idea of the post industrial society was pre-
cipitated through socio-economic structures that were entering a major
historical shift from manufacturing goods to the production of services.
Bell argued that this paradigmatic shift would be accompanied by “an in-
tellectualization of technology, the rise of a scientific knowledge class, and
a renewed communalism in politics” (p. 13). Bell further contended that
capitalist societies were driven by threatening and disruptive contradic-
tions at a cultural level. He indicated that capitalism originated because
of the combination of a work discipline and a Protestant culture based on
“frugality and abstemiousness.”

Bell flagrantly claimed that within the system of continued stress on dis-
cipline and the emphasis on gratification, an eventual deterioration of the
culture would occur unless a fundamental reversal occurred (Bell, 1995,
pp. 12-13). Within the post industrial societal construct, economics is one
of the main factors in determining post industrial society outcomes and
economic growth espouses predictable cultural and political consequences.
Industrialization typically leads to occupational specialization, increased
educational levels, rising income levels and eventually results in alterna-
tive gender roles, changed “attitudes toward authority and sexual norms,
declining fertility rates, expansive political participation, and a changing
work force” (Inglehart & Baker, 2000, p. 21).

One caveat of the changing economic structure of the post industrial

society is the cultural heritage of the civilization undergoing the change.
Hamilton (1994) argued: “What we witness with the development of a
global economy is not increasing uniformity,…but rather the continuation
of civilizational diversity through the active reinvention and reincorpora-
tion of non-Western civilizational patterns” (p. 184). In other words, while
the economic landscape may be shaped by specific post industrial tenets,
economic outcomes are constructed and heavily dependent on historical
and cultural inputs. Within the post industrial society, life is constructed
around services advancing a “game between persons” in which people
“live more and more outside nature and less and less with machinery and
things; they live with, and encounter only, one another” (Bell, 1973, pp. 148
– 149). A more highly educated society generally allows workers to deal

28 Sociology Reference Guide

more with people and concepts, “operating in a world in which innovation
and the freedom to exercise individual judgment are essential” (Inglehart
& Baker, 2000, p. 22). Rather than a strong reliance on agrarian components
or manufacturing, the post industrialist workforce places an emphasis on
subjective well-being and quality-of-life (Inglehart, 1977, 1997). More time
in the workforce seems to be spent more on the quality and service of the
work for humankind, rather than the difficulty of labor.

Work in the Post Industrial World

According to researchers, work in the post industrial world has dramat-

ically changed the face of the organized work structure and time spent
occupied with work. According to Lewis (2003) “paid work is increasingly
dominating people’s lives,” and that, “Far from the rise in leisure once pre-
dicted from the technological revolution, many people are now working
longer and more intensively than ever.” It seems that issues influencing
the integration of paid work and the workers’ life spent out of work, now
often referred to as “work-life balance,” have mainstreamed into a relevant
discourse between employers and unions (DfEE, 2000; DTI, 2001; Hogarth,
Hasluck, Pierre, Winterbotham, & Vivian, 2001; TUC, 2001), in the media,
and in our daily discussion (Lewis, 2003, p. 343). Lewis (2003) further
adds, “These issues are not new. Questions such as whether it is possible to
‘succeed’ in occupational life without sacrificing personal life have grown
out of a long tradition of research and discussion on the interface between
work and the rest of life” (p. 343).

The central problem blurring the time between work and leisure is the
expanded time now in the global 24-hour marketplace. Space, time, and
distance are “compressed by information and communication technology,
temporal and spatial boundaries between paid work and personal life are
increasingly non-existent” (p. 343). While these phenomena may create
new opportunities and broaden horizons for the most educated and highly
skilled knowledge workers, allowing them to work when and where they
choose, new challenges also arise.

Blurred Work Boundaries

Lewis (2003) argued that “many forms of post industrial work, which
dominate people’s lives, are becoming the new leisure.” She described post

The Social Organization of Work 29

industrial work as “what people choose to spend their time on and enjoy
doing” (p. 344). One of the main characteristics of post industrial work is
home-based “teleworking.” Home-based “teleworking” further blurs the
boundaries between work and non-work and is characterized by work’s
intrusion into leisure time (Sullivan & Lewis, 2001; Hill, Miller, Weiner, &
Colihan, 1998). Workers struggling with blurred boundaries between work
and leisure can never be completely lured away from work, which then
interferes with family time, or other non-work activities at any time. In-
creased communication and information technology adds to blurred work
and leisure boundaries and drives workers to spend increased time during
the evenings and on “weekends, or on trains and planes, in hotels or at
the gym spent on work related activities” (Lewis, 2003, p. 344). The conse-
quence of blurred work boundaries is that workers may spend too much
time or not enough time working.

Statistically, while both genders are impacted by blurred work boundar-

ies, women often feel bounded family commitments and less able to work
long hours (Lewis, Cooper, Smithson, & Dyer, 2001; Sullivan & Lewis,
2001). Thus, “just as leisure is highly gendered, with women less able
than men to preserve the boundaries between leisure and other activities
(Kay, 2002) the autonomy to use flexible working arrangements to pri-
oritize work is also gendered” (Lewis, 2003). This research suggests that
gender related issues between men and women continue to influence
women’s professional work lives. Arnold and Niederman (2001) stated
vehemently: “The statistics are clear that women, minorities, and older
workers, at least in the U.S., are not fully represented in the Information
Technology work force; firms may need to take positive action to make the
workplace more attractive” (p. 32).

Information Systems

The development of Information Systems has had a profound effect on

the rate of advance of all science. According to Wriston (1988) scientific
knowledge is currently doubling about every 13 to 15 years. As the old
industrial age is being replaced by a new era of the information society,
this transition implies that the relative importance of intellectual capital
invested in software and systems will increase in relation to the capital
invested in physical plants and equipment (p. 63). Similarly, Tonn and
White (1996) argued that information technology (IT), broadly defined

30 Sociology Reference Guide

as computer and telecommunications technology is having a substantial
impact on almost every community on earth. Researchers further indicate
that “data bases are coming on-line, communication over the Internet is
worldwide, distance learning is becoming common, wireless communica-
tion is growing, and multinational corporations already rely heavily on
their satellite and internal digital information systems” (p. 103). Central
to understanding the role of IT within the context of work in post indus-
trial societies is in understanding the potential benefits of ways systems are
designed to help workers achieve specific goals in the classroom, the work-
place, government services, and health care. Additional research should be
considered in each of these areas to determine IT impacts in each of these

Little (2000) argued that the role of IT in developing societies levels the
playing field of commerce. He stated that this aspect of economic glo-
balization allows “underdeveloped” and “overdeveloped” economies
to directly compete. The new mobility now available to suburban and
domestic labor forces “through telecommuting opens a two-way street,
with electronic access to and from the home redefining a sphere of both
production and consumption” (p. 1814). Little further stated that the birth
and emergence of transnational corporations (TNCs) and the internation-
alization of financial and labor markets have “created a rapidly evolving
world system currently characterized by rapid integration at a world
scale” (p. 1817). Camilleri and Falk (1992) argued that “power and au-
thority of nation states have diffused through participation in a variety
of multinational arrangements, encompassing not only trade, production,
and finance, but also environmental and security issues.” Little (2000)
further described ways that IT and its use in the post industrial world
offers an explanation of new forms of international business, which are
emerging more prolifically as a result of downsizing and other organiza-
tional changes. Computer based systems facilitate or substitute for organi-
zational structures and standards. As a result of technology driven shifts
in employment, new opportunities and increased access to resources and
improved employee flexibility has resulted. Another outcome of the tech
nological revolution is that direct competition between cities and local
states has increased (George, 1999) and the “incorporation or reincorpora-
tion” of the household into the economic sphere reflects a “two-way con-
nection between production and consumption,” which is visible in both
developed and developing nations (Little, 2000; Nelson, 1988).

The Social Organization of Work 31

New Skills Required

In contrast to benefits from IT growth, many firms are experiencing

extreme employee shortages for technical or highly specialized jobs,
because of the new skill sets required for even entry level positions. In
this structure, older workers experience difficulty with retrainability and
other contributory issues, because IT is developing so quickly. While addi-
tional IT training may improve the employability of employees, it also has
a “shelf life.” Firms take a risk when employees receive expensive training,
and employees take a risk that the expensive training will become quickly
obsolete. In the new post industrial work world, “firms frequently seek as
detailed a level of skills in the new technology as the individual had in a
previous one – skills beyond those readily transferable” (Arnold & Nie-
derman, 2001, p. 33). These evidences point to ways the work in the post
industrial world has changed, potential inferences for ways the new work,
particularly technology, drives skills and workforce training, and poten-
tial impacts for organizational restructuring as firms and other businesses
include a significant technological interface in the work environment. Ap-
plications for these impacts influence how employees choose to work and
manage work time commitments.


Wriston stated: “The entire globe is linked electronically, with no place to

hide” (1988, p. 71). Numerous applications for workforce preparation, the
workplace, and government services experience specific impact theories
stemming from the study of work in the post industrial world.

Workforce Preparation

The purpose of education in the post industrial world encompasses the

idea of building a knowledge-based economy. Rakitov (2006) stated that
“knowledge is a complex relation between a knowing subject, the object
of knowing, and a symbolic sign system that functions as a definite
language, and a system of senses and meanings” (p. 7). Knowledge can
be understood as a “special kind of intellectual reserve (and a reserve of
other valuable qualities of the individual), as the potential for activity, in-
formation, skills, abilities, and other valuable qualities of the individual”
(Nyiri, 2002). Lyotard (1998) wrote: “Knowledge in the form of an infor-

32 Sociology Reference Guide

mational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and
will continue to be, a major, and perhaps the major stake in the worldwide
competition for power” (p. 20). In the post industrial world specific impli-
cations for worker preparation and new insights into ways of teaching and
learning directly result from these developing insights. As new insights are
drawn regarding knowledge in the new society, sociologists should con
sider investigating the most valuable, efficient, and sustainable ways of
training workers to work in the modern world.

The Workplace

Castells (1989) argued that physical location is still important and that
a “range of contingencies” are possible with an underlying continuing
demand for physical proximity in terms of necessarily specialized labor
markets and other forms of communication. While large companies
pursue global strategies, network organizations composed of subdivisions
of larger labor markets and collaboration in teams and roles for specific
purposes offers one potential for workplace infrastructure (Castells, 1996,
Little, 2000, p. 1823). In addition to company restructuring, long working
hours and added workloads often result from the impact of fewer workers
for jobs. Dramatic organizational changes creates additional work for those
who survive “downsizing” and “efficiency drives.” In response to “global
competition in the private sector and the pursuit of ‘best value’ and budget
cutting in the public sector, new forms of work such as call centers, the
trend for escalating targets and insecure forms of employment, also create
pressure and increased work demands” (Lewis, 2003, p. 351) (Burchall,
Lapido, & Wilkinson, 2002; Brannen, Lewis, & Moss, 2001). Certainly, given
the new structure of work in the post industrial world, sociologists are
urged to study ongoing structures and impacts of the changing workplace.

Government Services

Wriston (1988) indicated that as IT has changed the way workers work;
the “coalescence of communication and computing technologies has trans-
formed government attitudes to communication infrastructure” (p. 1821).
The expanding range of commercial potentialities, and an equally ex-
panding demand for capitalization to increase new and different kinds of
service, has driven governments to privatize and deregulate. State power
has diffused through agreement to and participation in multilaterial regu-
lation in areas such as trade and security operating in internationalized fi-

The Social Organization of Work 33

nancial and labor markets. These policies not only impact state and national
levels, but are increasingly determined at supranational levels. All of these
effects inevitably seep down to the individual household, becoming the
“end-point of transborder data flows” (p. 1821).


Arlie Hochschild (1997) argued that employees in the United States are
more satisfied working than they are at home. Especially for parents of
young children, work has become more satisfying than staying at home.
While absorbing and stimulating, paid work is often the source of recogni-
tion and status, while staying at home is hard work, especially for parents
of young children. Work becomes a refuge from home, rather than home
as a refuge from work (Maume & Bellas, 2001).

Post industrial work is often the most stimulating and absorbing when
technology enables the permeation of work and non-work boundar-
ies (Sullivan & Lewis, 2001). One potential result of blurred boundaries
between work and non-work is that workers can be more flexible and fit
their work and non-work demands at their convenience. Lewis (2003)
argued that “some professionals not subject to constant management sur-
veillance have always had flexibility to integrate work and non-work. But
for many of these workers, both men and women, the pull of work in the
home is often strong and oppressive” (p. 348). One caution is that the new
flexibility often simply extends the working day. It is possible that while
a certain amount of flexibility may successfully integrate paid work with
other non-work activities, too much flexibility can backfire (Prutchno, Li-
tchfield, & Fried, 2000). As Hochschild (1997) suggested, it is not just that
work and home have become joined; blurred boundaries make the two “in-
creasingly indistinguishable.” Moreover, Lewis (2003) indicated that the
central issue is that “if someone is totally absorbed in work that they enjoy,
and not paid for extra hours (as is usually the case for knowledge workers),
how is that different from leisure, if at all?” (p. 348). The central issue for
work in the post industrial world is that boundaries may become so blurred
that an overworked, over-stressed culture will inevitably be formed.


Evidence suggests from the research presented that work in the post in-
dustrial world has changed from work in previous eras. Maas and van
Leeuwen (2002) indicated that “in industrial societies, production methods

34 Sociology Reference Guide

continuously develop, which requires employees to change jobs during
their lifetimes, and children to eventually have jobs that are different from
those of their parents. Instead of traditional caste, racial groups, gender, or
family status, education becomes the principal means of assigning persons
to occupations. Industrial society thus becomes an “open” society” (p. 179).
Clearly, the advancement of technology, Information Technology, and
Information Systems has changed the work and structure of work both
nationally and internationally. These changes create opportunities, while
demanding flexibility and an increased propensity toward blurred bound-
aries between work and non-work activities. As technology consumes
societies and work opportunities in global markets expand, sociologists
will be able to conduct further research into potential effects, benefits, and
consequences of work in the post industrial world. As Lewis (2003) indi-
cated “if work is taking over from leisure and other personal activities on
a wide scale, we need to examine the broader and long-term effects on in-
dividual well-being, families, and communities. If current trends continue
these may be vital research questions for the early-twenty first century”
(pp. 353-354).

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Suggested Reading
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Dyckman, D. L. Foley et al. Explorations in Urban Structure, 79 – 153. Philadelphia, PA:
University of Pennsylvania.

The Social Organization of Work 37