Work, Employment, and Society

Module code: SY1012

Module co-ordinator: Dr Edmund Chattoe-Brown

Please note that from 2016 this will be a second-year module.

Most adults in the UK will spend about 80,000 hours of their lives working and they will be the envy of those who want to but can't. But by what processes has the UK labour market moved from sending children up chimneys in the Victorian era, through socially important innovations like the welfare state (in which we arguably led the world), to becoming one of the most deregulated nations in Europe? How can sociology help us understand how these changes occurred? What challenges will today’s students face in moving into the employment market? And what effect does all this work have on the rest of our lives?

This module introduces a range of approaches to labour markets using the UK as its example. It shows how different theories (suitable for understanding individuals, groups, organisations, and nations) and data can be applied to topics like strikes, globalisation, racism and sexism in employment, effective government policy, and the 'free market'. Using these theories and data we can understand issues such as:

  • Why trade unions tend to lose strikes
  • Why multinational companies are notorious for poor employment practices
  • Why it is so hard for women (and ethnic minorities) to escape their disadvantaged positions in the labour market despite Government policy

Many issues we care deeply about involve labour markets (for example, unemployment, minimum wages, migration, child care provision, welfare benefits, and student loans). As voters and workers, understanding these issues (and our own place in them) is important.

Topics covered

This module combines a historical approach and focus on the UK labour market with links to relevant theories from the other social sciences (such as the 'free market' in economics and the role of legislation in labour markets in law and political science). The module is organised around five key themes:

  • Marx and Queen Victoria: the nature of work, class conflict, and inequality
  • Strikes and scabs: 'Free' markets, unions, and the collective action problem
  • Men, women, and children: Labour market disadvantage and the role of government
  • The world and elsewhere: the globalisation of production and consumption
  • Rapers and boners wanted: the changing nature of jobs and management


  • Eighteen one-hour lectures
  • Nine one-hour seminars


  • Exam, two hours (100%)