Chapter 5: Risky Transitions over the Life Course: Bridges or Traps?
The essential feature of a bridge is that it is a ﬁxed device that lets you transit a discontinuity without getting nervous. (Cohen and Stewart 2000, p. 405) This epigraph serves as a metaphor for the main argument of this chapter: People are willing to tolerate added ﬂexibility if they can rely on bridges to overcome critical discontinuities during their life courses. I therefore start with the hypothesis that such discontinuities are multiplying, that the ‘standard employment relationship’, and hence the social safety net depending on it, is eroding. A close look at the empirical evidence reveals that ‘nonstandard’ jobs are indeed expanding but that visions of an entirely ﬂexible labour market are untenable (section 5.1). Because the empirical evidence is inconclusive, I develop a theoretical model based on Simon’s (1951) seminal distinction between ‘employment contracts’ and ‘sales contracts’ in order to speculate in a more informed way about the future of work. I ﬁnd reasons for an ongoing keen interest in stable employment contracts, meaning that visions of an entrepreneurial economy based on sales contracts are misleading. However, my prediction is that employment contracts will increasingly contain elements derived from sales contracts that push entrepreneurial risks more and more onto employees (section 5.2). The cultural and media sector represents in embryo many forms of these hybrid employment relationships. A closer look at the labour market for artists and journalists shows that individual strategies for coping with the new risks provide important clues about how to recalibrate the modern welfare...
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