Action Potence in Unbound Labour Relations

  • Head of research: Prof. Dr. Gabriele Winker
  • Contributors: Dipl. Sozial√∂konomin Iris Nowak, Jette Hausotter M.A.
  • Duration: 2008-2011


1. Research Design and Objectives

At the present time more and more areas of life are subject to market mechanisms. The vast majority of employees find themselves in unbound labour conditions, where they are expected to partake as a whole person, meaning with all of their creativity, their time, their personality and social skills. Yet at the same time occupational groups are to a larger extent forced into labour conditions that are distinguished by low-wage and precarious employment conditions. Besides these developments in the wage work sector, cutbacks in the welfare sector add to the intensifying double burden of those employees who engage in care work for children and the elderly in addition to gainful employment. The various requirements in all areas of life are characterized by a high degree of change and various dynamics. Individuals, therefore, have to develop a high degree of flexibility in order to cope with them.

The subject of our research is the variety of forms of action potence that people develop in these flexibilised and unbound conditions of work and life. We assume that gender, age, nationality, employment status and the like have a severe impact on how individuals are affected by societal changes. Along with the different identities that individuals construct goes a varying potential of how to shape their conditions of living, thus an intersectional research perspective is adopted.

Furthermore, we proceed on the assumption that people are subject to societal conditions, however, as agents they actively partake in the formation of these conditions. The current socioeconomic changes have caused existential insecurities and increased the pressure to perform well in professional as well as reproductive work for a great number of people. In addition, these changes call and ask for a variety of new coping mechanisms that evolve out of people's everyday life.

In view of this, the following research objectives present themselves:

a. What are employees' perceptions of the neoliberal demands in their professional and reproductive work? What types of conflicts evolve for them?

b. How do people deal with these demands and conflicts? How do they adjust to the given conditions? What are their means of expanding control over their own conditions of living?

2. Fields of Research

In order to find answers to these questions we focus on two different fields of gainful employment. By means of narrative interviews we collect data regarding activities in the fields of gainful employment and reproductive work. Furthermore, we seek information about individual's vital conflicts und about their scope of action.

I. International corporations in industry

In international companies forms of employment have become increasingly diverse: in addition to permanent employees, temporary and sub-contracted employees are hired; sometimes also agreements regarding child care services such as in-house kindergardens exist. We conduct interviews with technical employees in production and engineering who hold different employment status.

II. Nursing Homes

In the realm of nursing homes the increasing demands within the social sector as well as the effects of decreasing wages, differentiated forms of employment, and the increasing work load in formerly so-called supplementary jobs become evident. We conduct interviews with caregivers who have different occupational qualifications and employment status.

We will be happy to share and discuss our findings with the interviewees as well as in-plant and various political actors.