Workplace regimes: A sociological defence and elaboration

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This article defends and extends the concept of workplace regimes, understood as the existence of identifiable systematic patterns of managerial control. In doing so a conceptual framework is developed for explaining both patterns in control and the dynamics of workplace politics. Specifically, this article elaborates on the approach of Michael Burawoy and extends it through an engagement with Science and Technology Studies (also known as Science, Technology and Society Studies) (STS) and Economic Sociology. The core of Burawoy’s framework is identified as the use of ideal-typical ‘workplace regimes’ to represent historically distinct positions upon a continuum between legitimation and coercion. This core is defended and it is argued that granular firm-level variations in the use of legitimation and coercion would only invalidate the theory if they were to make the identification of shifts in historical tendencies at the macro level of world systems impossible. In fact, it is claimed that once fully elaborated the resultant framework is able to explain commonalities and regularities across seemingly divergent contexts as well as variations within regimes. In the course of making this argument, an important distinction, that has not previously been fully recognised, between workplace regimes and workplace politics is highlighted. Finally, the potential explanatory power of this workplace regime approach is illustrated by drawing on recent qualitative research in the retail sectors of the UK and the US.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)119-138
Number of pages20
JournalWork in the Global Economy
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021


  • Burawoy
  • embeddedness
  • managerial control
  • labour process theory
  • workplace regimes


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