New Directions in the Study of Work and Employment
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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.
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Chapter 1: Reconceptualizing Industrial Relations in a Global, Knowledge-driven Economy

Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld


1. Reconceptualizing industrial relations in a global, knowledgedriven economy Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld INTRODUCTION The words ‘industrial’ and ‘relations’ came together about a century ago to describe what was then a new and important field of study – emerging in response to the rise of industrialization. The establishment of industrial relations schools, institutes, departments and other academic programs served to codify and advance this new field. Today, as the very nature of work, technology and markets are shifting again – toward what some have termed a global, knowledge-driven economy – it is not clear whether the concept of ‘industrial relations’ will adapt. Words do matter, and this chapter stands as a meditation on these key words in their changing context. ORIGINS The Industrial Revolution provided the crucible from which the field of industrial relations (IR) emerged. In most writings prior to the mid-1700s on farming, metalworking, woodworking, shipping, exchange and other occupations, the focus was on the object of the work, rather than the work itself. While there are notable exceptions – in the Bible and other places where issues such as fair compensation are discussed – prior to industrialization there was not an established literature on work and employment relations as such. Industrialization provided new modes of production for agriculture and manufacturing, bringing with it ways of working that were different – typically more efficient, but also less safe, requiring different skill sets, drawing different workforces, and affecting many other aspects of life. As one observer commented, looking back on these changes...

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