ABSTRACT

There seems to be agreement amongst social scientists and lay people alike that patterns of work and working life are changing so radically that we need to rethink (and reconceptualise) our ideas about work, employment and unemployment. 1 There also seems to be some agreement that levels of unemployment will remain high and that less permanent, more ‘flexible’ work practices are gaining ground. However, there is no agreement on what other outcomes of these processes of change there will be. Whereas some have suggested that changes in patterns of work and employment practices will lead to more horizontal and vertical integration at the workplace, and thereby, to greater equality between workers and salaried employees, others have suggested that there will be further polarisation between different categories of workers and between the employed and unemployed. Formal education, work qualifications and work experience (particularly as they relate to technical know-how) have been suggested as important sources of social division in the future, separating those who will belong to the core workforce and those on the periphery. I tend to agree with the latter point of view and would add to this stratification list that women and men will be affected differently by any such changes, since political and economic power structures are always gendered. The same can be said for recent immigrants. From this I conclude that social relations of gender and ethnicity need to be considered as an integral part of an analysis of emerging employment patterns and possible processes of polarisation and marginalisation.