Baldry, C., P. Bain, P. Taylor, J. Hyman, D. Scholarios, A. Marks, A. Watson, K. Gilbert, G.

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1 Baldry, C., P. Bain, P. Taylor, J. Hyman, D. Scholarios, A. Marks, A. Watson, K. Gilbert, G. Gall and D. Bunzel The Meaning of Work in the New Economy. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Many observers have argued that with the arrival of the new economy, that is, the knowledge or information economy, working conditions and the meaning of work become very different from what we are used to. It is pointed out that the expansion of knowledge and the development of information technology are associated with significant transformations of labor markets and the conditions of working life. Authors such as Daniel Bell, Tom Stonier, Peter Drucker, Manuel Castells and Robert Reich to mention just a few influential names have elaborated this theme, although in rather different directions. Various labels have been suggested to describe what is seen as a socioeconomic new system. Besides the knowledge society and information society, we come upon the notions of, for example, postindustrialism, post-capitalism, informationalism, and network society. A frequent assumption in the literature on the knowledge and information society is that human capital is the principal resource for new economy companies; it is their personnel s knowledge and skills that matter most for these organizations, while money, machinery and raw materials have become secondary for the possibilities of becoming successful. Employers must attentively take care of their human capital and as a consequence employees can expect to get increasingly better working conditions and opportunities for personal and professional development. 1

2 Against the background of this rosy and optimistic picture, Chris Baldry and his collaborators Peter Bain, Phil Taylor, Jeff Hyman, Dora Scholarios, Abigail Marks, Aileen Watson, Kay Gilbert, Gregor Gall and Dirk Bunzel have engaged in research into working conditions and work attitudes in two new economy industries: call centers and software engineering. Their empirical study is theoretically enlightened and well-founded and it is carried out in a notably thorough way, with the help of survey questionnaires and interviews in four call center companies and five software companies in Scotland. In total, the researchers have obtained 1,183 filled-in survey questionnaires, entailing a response rate of 62 percent, and in addition to that they have assembled a large number of personal interviews of approximately one hour and a half. A rich bulk of interesting results emerges from this research and the data point at continuity rather than radical break. Surely, certain significant changes and new features appear, but many patterns do not differ from what we would expect, given the body of knowledge that is available after many decades of working-life research. There is a very simple explanation for this striking continuity: no convincing and conclusive evidence can be put forward that capitalism has developed into a new socioeconomic form. It might instead even be claimed that the mechanisms of the old economic system have become more articulated. As the authors express themselves with respect to the present state of affairs: indeed capitalism has seldom been so unreluctant to speak its own name (p. 225). The mechanisms operating in working life are very much the same as before and they continue to produce similar outcomes. Call center and software companies are thus governed by capitalist owners and the principle of profit-making in competitive markets. Employees hire out their labor power to these businesses and they do so in order to get an income in exchange for their work efforts. Both 2

3 call center agents and software developers are wage-laborers, although the two categories differ from one another in many ways (there are of course also differences within each of the sectors). About two thirds of the call center workers identify themselves as working class, whereas most software employees consider themselves middle class or professionals. This is, in turn, related to differences in working conditions. For example, software developers appear to have a higher degree of job control and job autonomy; they generally make more positive assessments on the subject of influence over work, targets/deadlines, working pace, and breaks. Moreover, concerning training opportunities and career ladders, at least some of them seem to approach the ideals of the knowledge economy. Yet more than one third of the employees in software engineering look upon themselves as working class. And in both sectors, a majority of workers recognize that the concept of class is still relevant and they quite frequently express antagonistic attitudes in relation to management. Human Resource Management (HRM) discourse emphasizes how important it is for organizations to be staffed with committed and satisfied individuals. This is simply a corollary of the idea that human capital plays the key role in new economy activities. For that reason, the authors have undertaken to examine various attempts on the part of management to accomplish a gratifying and attractive social atmosphere. Among other things, they have studied reward systems, communications and in-house fun. The survey also includes a number of measures of organizational commitment, commitment toward employees and customers, occupational commitment, and job satisfaction. It turns out that the HRM discourse has indeed been pervasive, but the policies related to it have not achieved that much; more than anything else they have had an ad-hoc and often chaotic character. 3

4 Furthermore, the authors pay attention to the relationship between work, leisure and family as well as to gender patterns. As expected, it appears that the boundaries between work and nonwork are less clear in software engineering than in call centers. On the other hand, the workers in the software sector are as a rule able to make use of their relatively larger autonomy to handle spillover from the job. They are also aided by rather positive management attitudes pertaining to their needs for flexible solutions. Some have suggested that traditional gender roles would vanish, or at least lose strength, with the development of the knowledge economy. The empirical data in the Scottish study show that, although differences between men and women are quite small in some respects, many of the traditional gender patterns remain. In both sectors, women generally contribute less than men to household income, regardless of position in the company and hours worked. They also more often assume prime responsibility for children and domestic work. In connection with the discussion about gender issues, on the other hand, respondents of both sexes express rather egalitarian attitudes. And only small differences are found between men and women in terms of work preferences and career orientation. However, there seems to be a gap between declarations and actual behaviors. The explanation for this can be sought in a combination of domestic obligations and remaining patriarchal attitudes and practices within the organizations. To sum up, this book is an unusually valuable contribution to our knowledge about work and employment in certain newer parts of the capitalist economy. Its penetrating empirical analysis provides a nuanced picture of organizational conditions and cultural patterns in call centers and software houses. The authors keep their heads cool and try to sort out systematically what they discover. Although it is found that changes have taken place, a 4

5 crucial observation is that working conditions and the meaning of work in the new economy resemble what we already know from previous studies of other sectors or of working life in general. For all those interested in serious social analysis, based on both well-balanced theoretical considerations and careful empirical research, this book must be recommended; it is a significant and refreshing counterbalance to the many castles built in the air by less rigorous authors. Bengt Furåker Department of Sociology Göteborg University 5

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