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Sociology and the Future of Work: Contemporary Discourses and Debates

Paul Ransome
Belknap Press: MA
1999
0754611590 (hb)
42.50 (hb)
287

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The study of work continues to be one of the central pillars of sociology. Moreover, the importance of the economy in other spheres of sociology is fundamental. It is so to the extent that it is questionable whether a student of sociology can appreciate questions of leisure, culture, the media, and so on without first of all being exposed to the various discourses surrounding the economy in general and work in particular. While it may seem somewhat old-fashioned to argue in this vein, some fields within sociology are in danger of writing out the economy altogether. Students, then, ought to have a grounding in the trajectory of modern industrial society, going back to the growth of factories, through the decline of large industries up to the present day debate on the importance of information technology to the economy. Ransome's book is a recent addition to those texts able to give such an introduction. While the title suggests a purely forward looking book this belies a considerable amount of space devoted to the study of work from Marx onwards. It nonetheless does enter into current debates, most notably in its discussion of questions of globalisation in relation to Castells recent work.

There are seven chapters in all, although the final chapter is little more than a conclusion. The first three chapters take us through debates surrounding work from a historical perspective looking at Industrialisation then Fordism and Post-Fordism then New Technology. Chapters four to seven then focus on specific contemporary questions regarding Feminist perspectives, Identity, Globalisation and finally the future of work. Although not described as such, this book seems to derive from a lecture course with each chapter possibly representing two lectures. As such the contents of the book flow well with clear links made between the different chapters, although this could be at times criticised as being repetitive. I found the content particularly useful in its engagement with social theory. All too often the substantive exploration of work and employment takes place in a theory free zone but this is not the case here. Through thorough discussions of Marx, Weber, Durkheim then Bell and Galbraith , and finally Giddens, Beck and Castells the closeness of employment to social theory was demonstrated. Additionally, the text is engaging in being more than simply an explanation of different positions in that, in the final chapters in particular, Ransome begins to show his sympathies. This is shown most notably in his critique of the over ambitiousness of Castells project where the Hirst/Thompson argument that there is more continuity than change is preferred.

As should be apparent I liked this book. It was well written and would provide an excellent supporting text for a course on work and employment. There are, however, two factors that may prevent the book being taken up widely. Firstly, the book contains none of the 'user friendly' elements that many student texts currently include such as chapter summaries, suggested seminar topics / essay questions, and a glossary of terms. Secondly, it is not clear that the book will be published in paperback. Indeed the publisher is not recognised for producing student texts, being better known for monographs and research reports. Hopefully neither of these factors will prevent this book reaching a wider audience.

Gary Pollock
Manchester Metropolitan University

Copyright Sociological Research Online,