New Directions in the Study of Work and Employment

New Directions in the Study of Work and Employment

Revitalizing Industrial Relations as an Academic Enterprise

Edited by Charles J. Whalen

Charles Whalen’s book identifies avenues leading to the revitalization of industrial relations as an academic discipline. The contributors, a stellar assemblage of the field’s leading scholars, demonstrate there is much work to be done: the scope and intellectual content of industrial relations need to be reconsidered; academic and social institutions must be reshaped; and new conceptual and practical issues demand attention.

Introduction: New Directions in the Study of Work and Employment

Charles J Whalen

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, economics and finance, labour economics


Charles J. Whalen INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS IN CRISIS Work and employment have been subjects of academic research and teaching for over a century. Their study emerged out of the examination of social problems and evolved into a field called industrial relations (IR), which was born in the United States around 1920. Since its inception, IR has generally been considered interdisciplinary terrain devoted to both science building and real-world problem solving (Kaufman, 2004). In the current era, IR should be flourishing. Across the academy, one can find a growing recognition of the value of crossing traditional boundaries and engaging in interdisciplinary scientific research. Problems regarding jobs and employment relations, meanwhile, are a major concern for workers, managers and government representatives across the globe. As Bruce E. Kaufman writes at the conclusion of his sweeping history of the global evolution of IR, ‘Who today would say that the subject of employment and contemporary developments in the world of work is less important today than two or three decades ago? Few, I wager, and most would probably say the opposite – that the world of work is more important than ever for peoples and nations across the globe’ (Kaufman, 2004: 621). Nevertheless, academic units devoted to IR are facing tough times – especially in the English-speaking world – and the number of scholars associated with the field is shrinking.1 Many observers say the problem is that IR researchers became too focused on issues involving organized labor, especially collective bargaining, and thus the fortunes of the field...