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The 'future' of work? A call for the recognition of continuities in challenges for conceptualising work and its regulation

Research output: Working paperWorking paper and Preprints

Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBristol
Publisher or commissioning bodySchool of Law, University of Bristol
Number of pages22
DatePublished - 27 Nov 2018

Publication series

NameBristol Law Research Paper Series
PublisherUniversity of Bristol Law School
ISSN (Electronic)2515-897X


Discussion of a world without work usually comes accompanied by either fear or fantasy of a workerless world. A hashtag search on twitter for #futureofwork yields many photos of robots, yet very little insight into how such a world will emerge and its relation to the one in which we currently carry out our working lives. In this paper we argue that behind projections of a workerless world, and behind fears of a lack of jobs, are the continuities of dynamics already in play, and that these are capitalist working relations. This working paper firstly offers a contextualisation of the ‘future of work’, shaping new understandings of what is meant by the ‘worker’ in the contemporary context. Whilst acknowledging technical changes in the contemporary context of working relations, we argue that it is the continuities and contradictions in current labour market dynamics that more usefully identify the challenges for both conceptualising and regulating contemporary work.
Highlighting the spatial challenges to contemporary workplace governance we look at three factors: the mobility of work, the mobility of things as trade, and the ‘new workers’ (hyperflexible workers employed through platforms and other new arrangements of work that are made possible by technological advances) to identify key continuities in the factors and actors of the so called ‘future’ of work. To contextualise these factors as they manifest in particular sectors, we consider the cases of care work and agricultural work, both areas which have been subject to great speculation over projected transformation. The paper then turns to the challenges of law and regulation and demonstrates how work is enmeshed in legal developments which go far beyond labour and employment law. In conclusion, we argue that there is need for a radical new conceptualisation of work, in both social and legal terms, yet this must be grounded in recognition of the continuities of capitalist relations of production and accumulation, rather than the fears and fantasies of a worker-free future.

    Structured keywords

  • Perspectives on Work - BIMMS
  • MGMT Work Organisation and Public Policy
  • MGMT theme Work Futures

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