Strikes and Domination in the Workplace

Political Science/Sociology

I am looking for ways of understanding domination in the workplace. Understanding the legal dimensions of that domination is a very large part of the project I am researching as a Radcliffe fellow because my account of the right to strike depends, in part, on an argument about domination in the workplace. I am therefore looking to see how different countries, with different legal and political traditions, define the employment relation. Nearly everywhere, the defining feature of what counts as an employee is that this person is a “subordinate” to his or her employer. But different legal regimes define the nature of this legal subordination in different ways. I would like research assistants to help me gather information on a) the different legal definitions of employee, b) which aspects of that definition are most politically contentious in the relevant countries, and c) the history of the development of that definition of employee, how it has changed in the modern period. I have some countries covered, but I would like to have a wide scope of countries to draw on.

The student will have a wide range of responsibilities. First, I will assign specific countries to the student and ask him or her to find the current legal definition of employee, where that definition comes from, and how old it is. This will require the student to find legal history articles or books with that information and potentially to read some legal cases. Then I will ask the student to work with me on developing a theory of the different kinds of subordination that might exist and ask that student to help me “code” or distinguish the varieties of subordination that we find in each country. Once we have achieved that for the target countries, about 20 in all, then the student and I will work on identifying a subset of countries for which we want the legal history of the development of that definition of the employment relationship. In particular, I am interested to see whether the current definition of the employment relationship differs from or in any way draws from earlier, country-by-country, ways of understanding “master-servant” relationships. It will be a significant bonus if the student(s) working with me have non-English language skills since some of the information we will seek will be in the languages of the countries of origin.

My project requires gathering information from a wide range of countries, not all of which I can research alone. So the possibility of making empirical and theoretical claims about scope, range, and difference in legal treatments of worker subordination depends on having highly skilled, independent-minded research assistants. Moreover, this research project is a major part of my wider book project on the right to strike. So it will be of very great benefit to the project I plan to pursue as a Radcliffe fellow.

The student will benefit in multiple ways. First, he or she will have the experience of how to organize and pursue a specific, clearly designed research program. Second, he or she will work closely with me on how to interpret empirical material from a philosophical/social theoretic perspective. Third, there will be deep and important political questions we will be thinking about together, regarding the nature and organization of the power and authority in the workplace, which often don't get discussed much and will be of intrinsic interest. Fourth, since an important step of this project involves the student helping me develop different categories for the kinds of subordination we find, it involves the student making a theoretical contribution based on what he or she finds. The research will require initiative and insight, since it will sometimes be difficult to find or be challenging to interpret. For that reason, this is a chance not just for the student to see how a professor does research but also be active in the design and interpretation of scholarship.