Sociology 221
Class Web Pages




1996 Leisure
1997 Consumption
1999 Commodity Chains
2001 Work

Brought to you by the students of past Sociology of Work Leisure and Consumption classes... Enjoy

This course has been constructed to examine work, leisure and consumption as interrelated social, cultural and economic relationships. The central premise of the sociology of work -- once known as "industrial sociology" -- is that production relations shape the basic institutional frameworks that influence almost all other parts of people's lives. This is especially so in an economy where labor is organized through markets -- those not engaged in paid labor in such societies are either unemployed, retired, or perform non-paid labor (the latter, historically, a role performed primarily by women). Notice, how each of these latter categories immediately conjure up moral connotations as well. In modern market-based societies labor is not just a material imperative, it has also been an idealized activity that guides moral judgments. The work ethic has been a prized cultural possessions of the middle classes. Until the twentieth century, work's opposite -- leisure -- was deemed sinful by some, a luxury by others. The social and cultural changes that have occurred in the twentieth century with respect to work, leisure and consumption have been vast. How did the mechanization and bureaucratization of work change the experience and meaning of work? What made leisure and consumption activities more attractive and acceptable to people?

But just as scholars were proclaiming the US a post-industrial leisure society in the 1970s, the tides turned again and leisure time began a long-term decline for many people. A massive process known as "deindustrialization," began in the mid 1970s and resulted in the loss of the hallmark heavy industrial jobs such as steel production and machine building, and triggered the erosion of many relatively high-skill and thus, high-paying, jobs. At the same time, the aggregate economic importance of consumption has continued to expand. In fact, many areas that have been hard hit by the loss of industrial firms and skilled jobs have tried to replace these jobs with tourist-based and/or service-sector economies. Think also of how many cities there are where shopping malls and gallerias now dominate the urban landscape. Today, this process now known as "corporate downsizing," continues, as "lean and mean" corporations continue to reshape themselves to compete in world markets. But now it is getting difficult to annually coax sufficient Christmas purchases from consumers who are making less money as workers. What will the relationship be between our work identities and our consumer identities as we enter an age that some have labeled as "postmodern"?

Linked to downsizing and deindustrialization is the emergence of the "high-tech" economy driven by computers and advanced telecommunications. How will the emerging computer and Internet technologies transform the social relations of work? Will telecommuting become widespread, literally changing the spatial arrangements of our cities? Some suggest these new technologies have the capacity to do away with the authoritarian and controlling relationships that have dominated workplaces for at least the past two centuries. Others point out that these new technologies are already being used to more closely monitor and observe employees' work behaviors. How will the changing organization of workplaces in conjunction with new technologies alter income inequalities? Can these new technologies actually increase productivity enough to offset the loss of other industries?

modified 12-7-01 by