|The Brave New World of Work|
|summary||The end of the work society|
Beck has written a surprising and provocative book about how working is changing radically under our very noses with little serious discussion in our media or political communities. We see stories all the time about employment rates, but most people have little or no sense of the radical changes affecting the nature of work.
Work has become unstable throughout the modern world, writes Beck, a professor of sociology at the Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich. Skills can be suddenly devalued, jobs obliterated, social and welfare safety nets eroded. Companies merge, collapse, form and reform, often at the expense of their workers.
Fear and economic insecurity prevail among the middle-class majority as well as the underclass, writes Beck. "The United States is the only advanced country where productivity has constantly risen over the past twenty years, while the income of most of its citizens (eight out of ten) has either stagnated or declined. The average weekly earnings of 80 per cent of Americans in gainful employment dropped by roughly 18 per cent between l973 and l995, he reports, from $315 to $258 a week. At the same time, the real income of top managers soared by 19 per cent in just ten years between 1979 and 1989.
As entire industries rise or fall, as firms expand, shrink, separate, "downsize" and restructure, employees at all but the highest levels must go to work each day without knowing whether they will have their jobs or for how long. The newly unstable work society leads to the erosion of the middle-class and in our collective interest in civics. According to Beck, decline in civic participation and voting is directly tied to the decline of work society, which he says is closely linked to worker attitudes about democracy.
Is this all bleak? No, according to Beck. Although the loss of work security creates a temporary loss of security and social capital, he believes that down the road, this individuality and freedom -- much of it empowered by the same technology that has eroded work security -- will create a new kind of global citizen, one who is better informed, more communicative and civically-involved than before. He foresees a more inclusive kind of transnational society, with less nationalism and provincialism. The alternative facing the world is either collapse or political self-renewal, and he foresees the latter.
It's an interesting look at a subject that will affect almost every single American whose lives are being shaped by powerful technological forces they sense but don't quite understand. Work is a critical subject, and technology is changing it. In Brave New World of Work Beck helps us understand how and gives us some sense of how the new workplace might affect our futures.
You can purchase Brave New World of Work at Fatbrain.