Future of Work
The future of work is the subject of intense debate. This debate is shaped by multiple, overlapping “megatrends” which are seen as driving the evolution of—or revolutionary ruptures in—the world of work and employment.
The interdisciplinary Future of Work (FoW) cluster explores the potential for “sustainable work”, taking up debates on contemporary and emerging forms of work, as well as on concepts such as “decent” work. It also necessitates an exploration of the conceptions and experiences of work among workers themselves. It is an interdisciplinary cluster including researchers from the University of Leicester School of Business, as well the School of Law and the Leicester Medical School.
Megatrends at work
Exploring the following megatrends, through a critical re-examination of the employment relation, provides the thread linking our members together—and forms the starting point for the events initiated by FoW and the research we will develop.
Automation and digitisation
Recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence have spurred claims that jobs previously resistant to automation—in areas such as software development, journalism, research, teaching, as well as healthcare and clinical practice—may now see significant labour-shedding change. However, this is not a simple story of the creation of post-work societies, whether utopian or dystopian. Emergent forms of automation potentially involve the negotiation of a new relationship between workers and technology in the workplace, new ‘spatial fixes’, whether that concerns global production networks or remote working, as well as enabling new types of employment relations.
Global value chains
Recent decades have seen the development of “complex global value chains”, consisting of networks of production in which multiple borders are crossed in the creation of a finished product. The rise of China as an assembly platform for tech goods is the most striking example. Yet these complex GVCs coexist with more simple variants, for instance those based on the nexus between modern Internet-based “fast fashion” outlets and forms of unregulated sweatshop labour. Alongside these new forms of production, traditional areas of work, such as logistics and warehousing, have achieved a new prominence. Neoliberalism in question: while much of the emphasis from the 1980s onwards has been on deregulation and state withdrawal, the state is today playing a more explicit role in employment. States have also sought, with different degrees of success, to impose some degree of regulation on new forms of work, such as in the gig economy, posing the possibility of labour market re-regulation alongside continued deregulation.
Associated with the changes to the world of work have come widespread debates about precarious and insecure forms of employment. While in the Global South there are longstanding discussions of marginalisation and informalisation, there are now also debates on the expansion of precarity in the Global North. These pose questions about the regulation of novel forms of labour, the relationship between subjectivities and the objective conditions of employment, and the nature of the contemporary firm. Demographic shifts and employment transitions: the long-term demographic transformation of the population of countries such as the UK has implications for work and employment. It affects transitions into and out of work, with, for instance, growing numbers of people delaying retirement. An older population also entails increased demand on healthcare and social care, leading to debates about the quality of work in these fields.
The return of industrial relations
even before the recent uptick in strike activity here in the UK, there was growing discussion on the potential for trade unions to revitalise themselves by connecting to new sections of the labour force. This has led to high profile unionisation drives, notably at Starbucks and Amazon in the US, and in tech giants such as Google.
- Phil Almond
- Sally-Anne Barnes
- Jennifer Creese
- Matt Flynn
- Gemma Hughes
- Kate Kirk
- Gregory Maniatopoulos
- Reka Plugor
- Lisa Rodgers
- Chandrima Roy
- Lisa Sezer
- Katharine Venter
- Wen Wang
- Wei Wei
We also have an extensive e-mail list. Please contact the directors, Joseph Choonara (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Nik Hammer (email@example.com), to be added or for more information about the FoW research cluster.