Gendering the Knowledge Economy: Comparative Perspectives

Walby, Sylvia, Heidi Gottfried, Karin Gottschall and Mari Osawa (eds)
Palgrave Publishing, Basingstoke
1403994579 (pb)

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Cover of book This volume presents the combination of theoretical debate, quantitative and qualitative research which is the current work of the international network on Globalization, Gender and Work Transformation (GLOW). In ten chapters over three sections it covers various aspects of the 'knowledge economy' as found in two liberal and two coordinated market economies, namely the UK, US, Germany and Japan, and constitutes a densely-packed source of comparative data. Part I, Re-conceptualizing the Knowledge Economy, Gender and Regulation, begins with the book's Introduction and longest chapter, in which Sylvia Walby provides detailed context and outlines the new 'temporalities', 'contractualities' and 'spatialities' associated with the 'knowledge economy', as well as variations among the four countries' varieties of capitalism and gender regimes. The second chapter sees Karen Shire add her own perspective to Walby's concept of gender regime, and discuss the various formations of the knowledge-based economy in the countries under consideration.

Part II, Comparative Regulation, begins with a strong chapter from Mari Osawa, focusing on social policy in Japan and the analytical framework of the 'livelihood security system'. This is accompanied by an extensive Appendix, detailing public pension schemes available in the relevant four countries. The following chapter by Ilse Lenz takes a broad global perspective on regulation, including a discussion of globalized feminisms. Interestingly Lenz's chapter ends, on a more explicitly political note than is present in the rest of the volume, with reference to the radical conservative powers steering the US away from gender equality regulation implemented elsewhere. Chapter 5, while subject to an unfortunate typing error on the contents page, provides a welcome change of pace as Glenda Roberts presents case studies of the position of female employees in two Japanese firms. After contextualizing women's employment in Japan, Roberts presents a picture of a working culture that sees women plan child-bearing so as to least inconvenience their bosses, while being forced out of jobs when unwilling to work into the night. Roberts ends on an optimistic note, however, asserting that equal employment policies are having a positive impact on Japanese women's professional identities. Part III, Gendering New Employment Forms, opens with Karin Gottschall and Daniela Kroos who present two contrasting views of self-employment as representing either changing attitudes to work or the forcing of workers into instable employment forms caused by unemployment. The authors propose further explorations of the gender dynamics involved here.

Following this were what I found to be the most interesting contributions to the volume. In Chapter 7 Diane Perrons takes a holistic view of the new economy and, drawing on data from a case study in Brighton (UK), makes an interesting comparison between new media and childcare work. While these two fields may potentially be characterized as polar opposites, the author highlights the interrelatedness of their recent growth, and provides a closer look at the gender segregation in each. In the following chapter Makiko Nishikawa and Kazuko Tanaka look at workers caring for Japan's elderly in their analysis of care work as 'knowledge work'. Here gender segregation has been reinforced by government recruitment policies targeted at women who left work once married. Contrasting tacit and implicit knowledge forms and the impact of flexibilization, the authors' empirical findings show casual workers to be alienated from professional support. They contend that for care work to become knowledge work, a marked increase in face-to-face interaction would be required.

The final two contributions, by Susan Durbin and Ursula Holtgrewe respectively, cover similar ground to one another in looking at call-centres. Durbin's chapter addresses women's role in the transfer of knowledge in UK call-centres, and goes into detail than on the conceptualisation of embrained, embodied, encoded and embedded knowledge forms, the latter of which she finds women are largely and systematically excluded from. Chapter 10 focuses on German call-centres, where Holtgrewe sees workers as translators of knowledge forms, and finds that while more females have moved into management, the general trend for women in Germany is 'downward flexibility'. The repetition of some background information could perhaps have been avoided and the sheer volume of information in the first section of the book is somewhat overwhelming. This having been said, the book is meticulously detailed, providing empirically grounded analysis, and will appeal to a specialist audience of researchers and policy makers with a particular interest in gender, work/employment, economics and social policy.

Carrie Purcell
University of Edinburgh