Dualism, Job Polarization, and the Social Construction of Precarious Work


Publication of Arne Kalleberg’s Good Jobs, Bad Jobs provides a welcome opportunity to re-examine the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that scholars bring to bear on precarious employment. An exemplar of what was once called the “new structuralism,” Kalleberg’s book provides a rigorous, multidimensional analysis of the changes impinging on job stability and security. Although it identifies a vitally important trend toward a growing polarization in the distribution of job rewards, it does so in ways that illustrate the limits of the genre of research to which it belongs. Constrained to view the subjective experience of work as merely dependent variables, the book cannot explore how social, political, and cultural processes have both shaped and legitimated the rise of precarious employment. Drawing on recent studies of the popular business press and other media representations, we document the rise of a culture of enterprise that has idealized the uncertainties that have come to grip the labor market, defining the latter as a site on which individual agency can freely unfold. Only by addressing the interplay between job structures and such discursive and political developments can we hope to understand the rise of labor market precarity, let alone expand workers’ rights to protection against market uncertainty.

Work and Occupations, 39(4)
Chris Prener
Chris Prener
Assistant Professor of Sociology

My research interests include first responder work, urban neighborhood disorder, and tracing the effects of place on poor health outcomes.