Professor Sean O Riain is looking at how European workplaces are being transformed, exploring the kinds of new social bargains are emerging across the European Union, how they are being institutionalised, and how new workplace bargains are being shaped by the broader politics of sectors, regions and national economies.

These questions are crucial to the future of the European ‘social model’. They also raise crucial theoretical issues. The research reformulates the core elements of the ‘Varieties of Capitalism’ framework that has dominated comparative political economy for the past decade (Hall and Soskice, 2001). It improves our understanding of the diverse organisation of capitalism in Europe, of how that diversity is rooted in politically constructed ‘pathways to the future’, and of how capitalism is constructed out of social and institutional capabilities across Europe.  These empirical and theoretical concerns are linked in the four elements of the proposed research.

First, moving beyond the binary distinction between ‘liberal market’ and ‘coordinated’ economies, the research uses EU-wide survey data to identify the range of workplace bargains that are emerging, both around effort and reward in the workplace and around the sustainability of working lives and careers. This research uses the European Union Survey of Working Conditions (EUSWC; 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010) to analyse trends in the organisation of pay, the work process, careers and working time across EU countries over a crucial 15 year period.            
Second, the research builds on this analysis of workplace bargains to identify where they have emerged and spread, and how they have been shaped by social and institutional contexts. Sectoral, regional and national data is linked to the EUSWC data to enable a multi-level analysis of the interaction of regional, national and sectoral factors shaping the prevalence of different working regimes across the EU, and their changing structure over time.

Third, detailed case studies will analyse the processes which connect the workplace bargains and broader contexts identified in the first stages of the research. We will analyse the politics of workplace bargains in two sectors (advanced manufacturing and knowledge intensive services) in three small open European economies, each from a different ‘variety of capitalism’ (most likely Denmark, Ireland and the Netherlands). These studies will push beyond the rational actor model that has dominated the Varieties of Capitalism approach to examine how notions of likely economic futures are collectively constructed and enacted in institutional politics.

Fourth, these case studies will serve as the basis for an expanded analysis of the institutions of industrial policy, human capital formation and industrial relations that constitute capital and labour and govern the relations between them. The research will analyse how different societies generate different collective capabilities that shape the kinds of capitalism they end up with. In keeping with recent calls (Streeck, 2009), this will place capitalism firmly at the heart of political economy once more – but without giving up the analysis of the variety of ways that capitalism is itself constructed across Europe. 

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