Chapter 5: Crumbling Barriers to Decommodification
INTRODUCTION In the light of the emergent class structure and changing forms of inequality, let us return to the Global Transformation and consider how barriers to labour recommodification have been crumbling. Institutions that had limited commodification have been eroded, leaving people with weaker agency and under more pressure to labour in ways required by the global labour process and tertiarization. By no means have all the changes been negative in terms of freedom. Some have cleared the space for new institutions that could restructure work and labour in positive ways. But the changes have left people more exposed to market forces and pressure to be competitive, conforming to the central feature of neo-liberalism. This chapter considers four institutional barriers to commodification – the family, the educational system and the unemployment and disability systems. In each case, old institutional forms involved relationships that limited the power of market forces. THE FAMILY Although some depict the family as an enduring feature constituting a solid base of society, it has in reality been one of the most fluid institutions in human history. It is a locus of a wide range of activities that defy easy categorization as work, play or leisure, which is why there was such a protracted debate on ‘reproductive labour’ some years ago. Work done in a family is part gift, part a component of a chain of culturally shaped reciprocities binding the family together, part a reflection of oppression and patriarchy. Recreation or play blurs into learning, care blurs into...
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