From Industrial Citizenship to Private Ordering? Contract, Status and the Question of Consent

Wolfgang Streeck and Ruth Dukes. MPIfG Discussion Paper 20/13, Köln: Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung, 2020.

Abstract: This paper revisits the notions of contract and status found in classical sociology, legal theory, and labour law. Adopting an historical perspective, it explores the fragmentation of the status of industrial citizenship during the neoliberal period and discusses the enduring usefulness of the status/contract distinction in analyzing current trends in the regulation of working relations, including the spread of “gig” or platform-mediated work. Elements of status, it is argued, must always be present if work is to be performed and paid for as the parties require it. Claims to the contrary – for example, that the gig economy creates a labour market without search frictions and only minimal transaction costs: contracts without status – assume an undersocialized model of (monadic) social action that has no basis in the reality of social life (Durkheim, Weber). Still, status may come in a variety of forms that are more or less desirable from the perspective of workers, businesses, and society at large. The paper traces what it conceives as the privatization of status via contracts between employers and workers under the pressure of marketization and dominated by corporate hierarchies. Towards the end of the twentieth century, sociologists observed the division of workers into two groups or classes – core (with relatively well-paid and secure employment) and peripheral (low-paid and insecure). Thirty years later, gross inequalities of wealth and conceptions of the neoliberal self as ever-improving, everperfectible, are combining to create novel forms of status not fully anticipated by the literature.