Flows, Eddies, Swamps and Whirlpools: Inequality and the Experience of Work Change

Janet Lee Siltanen

Abstract


The main concern of this paper is how inequalities are implicated in the capacity individuals have to deal with changes in their work. The ability to deal with change - to seek it out, go with it, benefit from it - is a key aspect of neo-liberal discourse on the contemporary economy. Yet, there is little recognition within this discourse of the different capacities individuals have to initiate or respond to work change. This paper draws attention to such differences, and adds to arguments challenging the flexibilization and individualization encouraged by neo-liberal accounts of the economy. In particular, the paper highlights the two main strategies individuals are advised to adopt in managing employment change – lifelong learning and networking. We identify and provide paradigmatic examples of four profiles of work change: flows and eddies for the advantaged, swamps and whirlpools for the disadvantaged. Our research suggests that attention to how individuals negotiate changes in their employment will help to illuminate the dense and complex character of socially embedded work trajectories, as well as the intricate role of inequality in structuring the processes of change.

Keywords


work change; inequality; flexibilization; lifelong lerarning, networking, employment trajectories; life course

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