Sociology, Work and Organisation
eBook - ePub

Sociology, Work and Organisation

Seventh Edition

Tony Watson

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  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Sociology, Work and Organisation

Seventh Edition

Tony Watson

Angaben zum Buch

Über dieses Buch

The seventh edition of Sociology, Work and Organisation is outstandingly effective in explaining how we can use the sociological imagination to understand the nature of institutions of work, organisations, occupations, management and employment and how they are changing in the twenty-first century.

Intellectual and accessible, it is unrivalled in the breadth of its coverage and its authoritative overview of both traditional and emergent themes in the sociological study of work and organisation. The direction and implications of trends in technological change are fully considered and the book recognises the extent to which these trends are intimately related to changing patterns of inequality in modern societies and to the changing experiences of individuals and families. Key features of the text are:

  • clear structure;
  • 'key issue' guides and summaries with each chapter;
  • identification of key concepts throughout the book;
  • unrivalled glossary and concept guide;
  • rich illustrative snapshots or 'mini cases' throughout the book.

This text engages with cutting-edge debates and makes conceptual innovations without any sacrifice to clarity or accessibility of style. It will appeal to a wide audience, including undergraduates, postgraduates and academics working or studying in the area of work and the organisation of work, as well as practitioners working in the area of human resources and management generally.

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1 Studying work, society and organisation
Key issues
What is work?
What is ‘thinking sociologically’?
How can we most helpfully think about ‘social organisation’, ‘society’ and ‘societies’?
What role has sociology played historically in understanding a changing world and what role might it play in understanding contemporary issues and transitions?
In what ways can sociology be understood to be a science?
In what ways do sociologists use theories, adopt various research methods and work within differing philosophical (or ‘methodological’) assumptions?

People, work and society

Sociology is a resource which people can use to understand better how the social world ‘works’, so that they can act more effectively in the various social spheres in which they lead their lives. One of those spheres is work. Yes, but already in the opening words of this book, we have used the word ‘work’ in two rather different ways. When we say, for example, ‘I want to understand better how modern banking works’, and when we state that ‘my father used to work in a bank’, we are not speaking of the same thing. ‘Work’ is one of those words that is used in many different ways. It is also used very frequently. It is the eighty-seventh most common word in English, occurring 3 million times in the Oxford English Dictionary (Hargraves 2014).
If we are going to study human work activities and how they are organised and experienced, we need to decide how we are going to use the term ‘work’. This is not a matter of producing a final and absolute definition of work. Sociology, like all scientific and other forms of systematic study, proceeds by deciding what is likely to be the most useful way of characterising the topics being studied. Certain types of economic inquiry in a modern industrialised society might best be conducted by defining work in terms of task-based activities for which people are paid by an employer, client or customer. However, this would exclude all those tasks that we refer to as ‘housework’ for example. This would be a serious omission given that, in Brown’s (1997) words, ‘without the enormous volume and unremitting cycle of domestic labour the formal economy of jobs and pay packets would cease to function’. Pettinger et al. (2006) build on this insight in their suggestions for a ‘new sociology of work’, one which pays close attention to the ‘blurry line between work and not-work’. Glucksmann (2006) suggests that such a sociology of work might look at such activities as the cooking and preparing of meals, recognising the fusion of work, non-work and skill acquisitions which such activities entail. But we have to careful here. If we include in the scope of the sociology of work all task-oriented activity in which effort is expended, then we risk extending our study to such activities as walking across a room to switch on a television set or packing a bag to take for a day on the beach. We need a compromise that gives sufficient focus to our studies without limiting them to activities with a formal economic outcome.
There are two main aspects of work that a sociological concept of work needs to recognise. The first is the task-related aspect of work and the second is the part played by work in the way people ‘make a living’.
The carrying out of tasks which enable people to make a living within the social and economic context in which they are located.
Thinking about work in this way associates it with the expenditure of effort to carry out tasks, but it limits it to something that has an economic element – in the very broad sense of dealing with problems of survival in a world of scarce resources. But the notion of ‘making a living’ implies much more than just producing enough material goods to ensure physical survival. People do not simply extract a living from the environment. Work transforms environments in many ways and, in the process, creates for many people a level of living far in excess of basic subsistence. But it does more than this. It also relates intimately to how people shape their very lives and identities. And people’s lives are significantly shaped by the circumstances in which they have to work. The work people do becomes closely bound up with their conception of self. In looking at how people ‘make a living’, we are looking at how they deal with both the economic and the social or cultural aspects of their lives.
Work is a social, economic and cultural phenomenon. It is not simply a matter of behaviour. Work occurs in societies, and as with work, we have to conceptualise ‘society’ before we can systematically examine the role of work in human societies.
The broad pattern of social, economic, cultural and political relationships within which people lead their lives, typically but not exclusively in the modern world as members of the same nation state.

Social organisation, work organisations and thinking about work sociologically

Sociology provides us with a range of insights, concepts, theories and research findings which help us understand the wide range of work and work-related activities that occur in the context of the broader social and cultural arrangements.
The study of the relationships which develop between human beings as they organise themselves and are organised by others in societies and how these patterns influence and are influenced by the actions and interactions of people and how they make sense of their lives and identities.
This definition of sociology incorporates the basic insight which is shared by all the social science disciplines: that human life does not happen randomly or by individuals and small groups following their instincts in order to survive. Social life is organised. If there were no organised patterns in social life, there would be no predictability to our lives, no sense of order and nothing to stop people killing and robbing from each other as they pursued selfish interests. For this reason, we can identify various patterns of social organisation existing throughout human history. Hunter gatherer lives were socially organised as was life in the Roman Empire or in African nomadic tribes. However, a characteristic and dominant institution in contemporary industrial-capitalist societies is that of the bureaucratised work organisation. Thus, in the societies in which we currently live, there is general social organisation (a pattern of social structures, cultures, institutions and so on). Within this there is a set of work organisations that operate – sometimes in co-operation with each other, sometimes in competition with each other – to produce and provide goods and services and administer social, political and economic aspects of life.
Whether we are dealing with activities at the level of the individual, the group or the work organisation, the essential characteristic of the sociological perspective is that it ultimately relates whatever it studies back to the way society as a whole is organised. Sociology works on the assumption that no social action, at however mundane a level, takes place in a social vacuum. It is always linked back to the wider culture, social structure and processes of the society in which it takes place. These structures, processes, norms and values, with all their related inequalities, ideologies and power distributions, are the source of both constraints and opportunities which people meet in conducting their lives. The better and more widely these cultures, structures and processes are understood and the better the connections between specific actions or arrangements and these basic patterns are appreciated, then the greater is the opportunity for the human control over work, industry and every other kind of social institution.
Let us illustrate this argument by trying to make sense of a simple piece of ‘everyday’ work-related human behaviour. One might interpret this, first, as if one were simply a casual observer and, second, as if one were a sociologist.
If we were viewing this scene as strangers to this work organisation, whether or not we were formally trained as sociologists, we would be thinking about both the personal and the work relationship between these people: were they a married couple, lovers or simply people sharing a lift to work? We would wonder how this aspect of their relationship related to the authority relationship between them: presumably one of them was ‘the boss’, was the more highly paid, the more highly trained, and had the right to give instructions to the other. If we were more consciously sociological in our speculations, however, we would draw on our knowledge of ‘sociological’ matters such as social class, educational and career opportunity structures, bureaucratic authority structures, culturally normal patterns of workplace layout and the patterns of behaviour, rules, assumptions and expectations associated with work activities in this particular society and culture at this particular time in history.
Snapshot 1.1

A man and a woman arrive at work

A man and a woman get out of a car and walk into an office block. One of them goes into a large private office and closes the door. The other sits at a desk outside that office alongside several other people. The person in the private space telephones the one in the outer office, and a few minutes later, the latter individual takes a cup of coffee and a biscuit into the person in the inner office.
If it were the man that entered the private office, we might note that standard ‘norms’ were being followed with regard to gender relationships. But if it were the woman who ‘played the role’ of the senior person – the presumably higher paid, more qualified individual with greater authority – we might begin to reflect on how this individual has come to challenge established patterns. How had she come to break established norms? What opportunity structures had she used, what barriers had she overcome? To what extent were her actions and her relatively unusual position in the workplace part of a broader pattern of social change?
In analysing this simple piece of mundane activity in this way, we are thinking sociologically. In asking these questions, we are asking sociological questions. And, in doing so, we are engaging with issues of power and life chances in a way that both enhances our ‘academic’ understanding of relationships at work and, at the same time, offers understandings of possibilities and practices which have the potential to inform human choices that might further – or, for that matter, resist – social change.

Choices, constraints and opportunities in work and society

Sociology’s potential as a resource for informing human choice is something to which we will return shortly. First, however, we need to reinforce the point about working arrangements and social patterns being both the outcomes of human actions and factors helping shape those actions. Sociology has been defined here as something that looks at how human beings organise both themselves and each other. In looking at how people think and behave, it looks for cultural patterns and ‘structures’ in social life. These patterns are seen as both the outcome of the activities of individuals and as things that in turn, influence, encourage and constrain the individual. If, for example, it was the man in Snapshot 1.1 who was the more senior of our two social actors, he might tell us in an interview that his current role as the organisation’s head of information technology was the outcome of a series of choices that he personally made in his life. The woman, to whom he gives a daily lift in his company car, might talk to us about how she chose to train and work as an office secretary.
As sociological observers, we would not want to discount these claims to choice or ‘agency’ in these individuals’ career patterns. Nor would we say that there were no individual choices behind the pattern whereby the great majority of the important ‘decision-makers’ in this organisation are currently men and most of the secretarial and ‘personal assistant’ workers are women. Choices have clearly been made. Nobody forced these people into these jobs. Each human individual is an agent, with wants, aspirations and a sense of identity which they bring to any decision to speak or act. But, at the same time, we are likely to be aware that the pattern we have observed is, in some sense, an outcome of the way the ‘society’ in which these people grew up channelled male and female children into different spheres of activity. There were clearly pressures on each child from the world around them: from role examples observed as they grew up to the opportunities made available to boys and girls in both education and initial employment.
It is easily possible to see two mutually exclusive alternative types of explanation emerging here: agency and choice on the one hand, and structural ‘channelling’ on the other. Somet...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Dedication
  6. Table of Contents
  7. List of figures, tables and snapshots
  8. Introduction
  9. 1 Studying work, society and organisation
  10. 2 Analysing work and organisation: scientific management, human relations and negotiated orders
  11. 3 Analysing work and organisation: institutionalism, labour process and discourse analysis
  12. 4 Industrial capitalism, change and the possibility of a fourth automation-based industrial revolution
  13. 5 Work organisations
  14. 6 Control and variation in organisational shaping and human resourcing
  15. 7 Occupations and the social organisation of work
  16. 8 Aspects of occupations: from managers to exotic dancers, artists to professionals and soldiers to investment bankers
  17. 9 Culture, work orientations and the experience of working
  18. 10 Identity, narrative and emotion in and out of work
  19. 11 Conflict, mobilisation and regulation at work
  20. 12 Resistance, mischief, humour and the defence of self
  21. Concept guide and glossary
  22. Bibliography
  23. Author index
  24. Subject index
Zitierstile für Sociology, Work and Organisation

APA 6 Citation

Watson, T. (2017). Sociology, Work and Organisation (7th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2017)

Chicago Citation

Watson, Tony. (2017) 2017. Sociology, Work and Organisation. 7th ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Watson, T. (2017) Sociology, Work and Organisation. 7th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Watson, Tony. Sociology, Work and Organisation. 7th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2017. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.