Transforming “Work”: From Capability Approaches to Ulrich Beck’s Civil Labor

Roberta Rehner Iversen


Labor market jobs and social welfare supports in the US and many EU countries are both inadequate. The basic economic belief that increased productivity will result in “full” employment has been upended by global patterns of offshoring, outsourcing, technology advances, immigration, and other labor market and economic shifts over the past 40 years. In a sense, labor market and welfare state have both become hegemonic disciplinary systems.

In the US there are not enough labor market jobs to go around, which particularly disadvantages youth and older workers. Also, because service industries now comprise the majority of employers, most jobs do not pay high enough wages to enable families to exist – much less thrive – without some type of social assistance, yet such assistance is diminishing daily.

In short – neither today’s labor market work nor today’s welfare service systems result in wellbeing for millions of individuals, families and communities.

One possible solution is to transform what counts as “work.” Transformation would move beyond sole reliance on labor market jobs, Transformation would enable workers to create their own meaningful work pathways. And transformation would compensate newly envisioned “work” accordingly. Sen’s and Nussbaum’s capability approaches and Ulrich Beck’s civil labor provide a beginning framework for transforming “work.” Ultimately, workers, families, communities, and countries’ physical infrastructures could all flourish.

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