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.

Labour Constitutions and Occupational Communities: Social Norms and Legal Norms at Work

Ruth Dukes and Wolfgang Streeck. In: Journal of Law and Society, published online (November 12, 2020).

Abstract: This paper considers the interaction of legal norms and social norms in the regulation of work and working relations, observing that, with the contraction of collective bargaining, this is a matter that no longer attracts the attention that it deserves. Drawing upon two concepts from sociology – Max Weber’s ‘labour constitution’ and Seymour Martin Lipset’s ‘occupational community’ – it focuses on possibilities for the emergence, within groups of workers, of shared normative beliefs concerning ‘industrial justice’ (Selznick); for collective solidarity and agency; for the transformation of shared beliefs into legally binding norms; and for the enforcement of those norms. If labour law is currently in ‘crisis’, then a promising route out of the crisis, we argue, is for the law to recover its procedural focus, facilitating and encouraging these processes.

Book Chapter – Taking Back Control? The Future of Western Democratic Capitalism

In: Chu, Yun-han and Yongnian Zheng, eds., The Decline of the Western-Centric World and the Emerging New Global Order: Contending Views. Routledge 2020, 37-57.

More than a quarter century after the end of the Cold War, the international state system is in turmoil, both within and between states. The fundamental cause of the growing disorder is the rapid progress of capitalist “globalization”, outpacing the capacity of national societies and international organizations to build effective institutions of political-economic governance. Increasing debt, rising inequality and unstable growth, especially but not exclusively in capitalism’s core countries, indicate a general crisis of governability. As states have become embedded in markets, rather than the other way around, they are governed more by politically unaccountable “market forces” than by their citizens and governments. Global markets and corporations, on their part, are governed only weekly if at all by improvised and often non-governmental institutions of so-called “global governance”. New problems – political conflicts over interests, values and identities, as well as technocratic puzzles and dilemmas, in national and international politics – are appearing almost by the day. Systemic disarray gives rise to a widespread sense of uncertainty. What may be in store for the capitalist world is a period of extreme unpredictability in which structures that had been taken for granted are dissolving without new structures taking their place. (…)

Previously published as an article in Efil Journal of Economic Research, Vol. 1 (2018), No. 3, 30-47. To be downloaded here.

Progressive Regression. Metamorphoses of European Social Policy

In: New Left Review 118, July-August 2019, pp. 117-139.

Has any polity in world history undergone such a rapid and far-reaching series of transmogrifications as the European Union? Founded as an organization for joint economic planning among six adjacent countries, in the context of the state-managed capitalism of the post-war era, it grew into a free-trade zone, increasingly devoted to neoliberal internationalism under the rubric of the ‘Internal Market’. As the number and heterogeneity of member states grew, ‘positive integration’ was replaced by ‘negative integration’, in effect market-building: the removal of national regulations impeding trade, in an ever-broader sense, within the union. After the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989, the EU became in addition a geostrategic project, closely intertwined with American strategy in relation to Russia. From a handful of countries jointly administering a small number of key economic sectors, the EU developed into a neoliberal empire of 28 states, obliged under union treaties to allow for freedom of movement for goods, services, capital and labour, and to refrain from ‘anti-competitive’ intervention in their economies. (…)

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First appeared as MPIfG Discussion Paper 18/11. To be downloaded here.

Reflections on Political Scale

Adam Smith Lecture in Jurisprudence, University of Glasgow, 30 May 2018. Published online on February 6, 2019, in: Jurisprudence: An International Journal of Legal and Political Thought, 10 (1), 1-14.

I start, not with Smith – he will show up near the end – but with a close friend of his, the historian Edward Gibbon. In the fourth volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, published in 1788, Gibbon’s narrative reaches the point when in the late fifth century the Western Roman Empire forever expired. Before he finally turns his attention to the history of Byzantium, Gibbon pauses to look back at more than four centuries of Roman imperial statehood to consider what the ‘awful revolution’ he has recounted might mean for ‘the instruction of the present age’. (…)

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From Speciation to Specialization

Published in Social Research Vol. 85: No. 3: Fall 2018, 661-685.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin

For a social scientist, reading Darwin’s origin of species is a simultaneously humbling and reassuring experience. What an achievement! Science and scientific writing at their best. A book that is the product of long thinking, such as we today, haunted by deadlines, can only dream of, and written in a clear, engaging language, immensely readable for even the (educated and interested) layperson. Everything is as simple as possible but no simpler, as allegedly demanded by none less than Albert Einstein himself. And profoundly honest: the open questions, the remaining mysteries carefully exposed, careful attention paid to the difficult spots, and the arguments of the opposition, both real and anticipated, treated with polite respect. (…)

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Between Charity and Justice: Remarks on the Social Construction of Immigration Policy in Rich Democracies

Appeared in Culture, Practice & Europeanization, August 2018, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 3-22

As a sociologist working on political economy, one of the most difficult questions I encounter is how social norms, the location of actors in the class structure and the collective construction of reality, present and future, hang together. How are facts construed to fit, justify and make appear possible moral or economic practices, or economic practices defended as moral ones, and how do socially constructed factual accounts of the world reflect, preserve and produce political identities and cleavages and the prevailing interpretations of structurally based social interests? This is the classical theme of Ideologiekritik and, later, Wissenssoziologie. Both interrogate the collective “ideas”, the legitimacy-enhancing “narratives” and the conceptual “frames” of the common sense of the time as to the hidden impact on them of material interests growing out of the social locations of actors and the specific cognitive and moral perspectives they impose on them. It cannot possibly be my intention here to try to present a complete analysis of this extremely complicated subject. Rather, I will limit myself to exploring a few selected facets of the interconnections between interests, politics and moral values, drawing for illustration on one of the most intriguing moral-political-economic issues in the rich democracies of today, which is immigration. (…)

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Europe under Merkel IV: Balance of impotence

Appeared in American Affairs Journal Volume II, Number 2 (Summer 2018): 162–92.

Europe, as organized—or disorganized—in the European Union (EU), is a strange political beast. It consists, first, of the domestic politics of its member states that have, over time, become deeply intertwined. Second, member states, which are still sovereign nation-states, pursue nationally defined interests through national foreign policies within intra-European international relations. Here, third, they have a choice between relying on a variety of supranational institutions or on intergovernmental agreements among selective coalitions of the willing. Fourth, since the start of the European Monetary Union (EMU), which includes only nineteen of the EU’s twenty-eight member states, another arena of European international relations has emerged, consisting mainly of informal, intergovernmental institutions looked at with suspicion by the supranational EU. Fifth, all these are embedded in the geopolitical conditions and geostrategic interests of each nation, which are related in particular to the United States on the one hand and to Russia, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Middle East on the other. And sixth, there is at the bottom of the European state system an ongoing battle for hegemony between its two largest member countries, France and Germany—a battle that both deny exists. Each of the two, in its own way, considers its claim to European supremacy to be only just and indeed self-evident, Germany so much so that it doesn’t even recognize its ambitions as such.1 Moreover, both would-be hegemons are aware that they can realize their national projects only by incorporating the other within them, and for this reason they present their national aspirations as “European integration” projects based on a special relationship between Germany and France. (…)

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French translation:

L’Europe sous Merkel IV. Un équilibre de l’impuissance

Published in Le débat No. 202, novembre – décembre 2018: 60-80.

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Italian translation:

L’Europa sotto il Merkel IV: un bilancio di impotenza

Pubblicato su Appello al popolo, rivista del Fronte Sovranista Italiano, 28 novembre, 2018.
Tradotto dall’inglese da Massimiliano Sist.

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The fourth power?

Review of Joseph Vogl (2017), The Ascendancy of Finance, trans. Simon Garnett, Cambridge: Polity Press.
First published in German as Der Souveränitätseffekt (2015), Zürich-Berlin: diaphanes.

Appeared in New Left Review 110, March-April 2018, pp. 141-150

Like blood in Goethe’s Faust, money ‘is a very special fluid’. It circulates in the body political-economic, whose sustenance depends on its liquidity. [1] And it is surrounded by mystery. In fact, money is easily the most unpredictable and least governable human institution we have ever known. Allegedly invented as a general equivalent, to serve as an accounting unit, means of exchange and store of value, it has over time penetrated into the remotest corners of social life, constantly assuming new forms and springing fresh surprises. Even Keynes had to admit that his attempt at A Treatise on Money (1930) ran into ‘many problems and perplexities’. How money came to be what it is today, in capitalist modernity, may perhaps with the benefit of hindsight be reconstructed as a process of progressive dematerialization and abstraction, accompanied by growing commodification and state sponsorship. But how money functions in its present historical form is more difficult to say; where it is going from here, harder still. This social construction has always been beset with, and driven by, unanticipated consequences—caused by human action, but not controlled by it. (…)

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La dette souveraine

New publication in La dette souveraine: Économie politique et État
Buying time. Preface to the second edition.

Nouvelle publication dans La dette souveraine: Économie politique et État
Du temps acheté. Préface à la séconde edition.

Wolfgang Streeck: Il y a plus de quatre ans que j’ai terminé le manuscrit de Du temps acheté. Bien que la crise dont il traite soit aujord’hui moins explosive qu’elle ne l’était à l’été 2012, je n’y retrouve pourtant rien qui mériterait d’être retranché ou réécrit. Certes, davantage d’explications, de contextualisations et d’éclaircissements sont toujours bienvenus, et ce également à titre de remerciements pour les nombreuses recensions dont le livre a bénéficié en Allemagne, et ailleurs, en si peu de temps – à la surprise de son auteur, dont les précédentes publications avaient été principalement réservées à des parutions scientifiques spécialisées. […]

Pour continuer: Julia Christ en Gildas Salmon (2018), La dette souveraine: Économie politique et État, Paris: Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS).

Autres contributions de: Colin Crouch, Jürgen Habermas, Robert Boyer, Bruno Karsenti, Benjamin Lemoine, Marie Cuillerai, Jean-Michel Rey, Yves Duroux, Julia Christ et Gildas Salmon.