National Institutions, Sectors, and Work Organization. A Theoretical Framework


Over the last thirty years, researchers have become increasingly concerned to explore national differences among advanced capitalist countries and the impact of political economy on economic performance, job quality, and other social outcomes. Some of these approaches specifically focused on distinctive patterns of skill and work organization, while for others these issues were of marginal interest. The most relevant for this book are 'societal effects', 'skills equilibria', 'varieties of capitalism', and 'employment systems' approaches. These studies present various interpretations of the role of national institutions, class relations, and different forms of competition and inter-firm organization in creating distinctive national regimes. This chapter examines what these approaches can tell us about differences in work organization and skill across countries, assesses the evidence provided, and considers the role of the sector in accounting for within-country variation.

The chapter begins by critically appraising these theoretical perspectives which drew evidence largely from manufacturing sectors. It then examines key findings from major surveys which indicate that the Scandinavian countries, on the whole, have 'better' forms of work organization. Although the surveys indicate broad national differences, there is evidence that these differences do not apply consistently across sectors. This raises important research questions. Do national institutions make themselves felt in a given sector resulting in cross-country differences or are there sector dynamics which shape similar outcomes in work organization and skills, irrespective of national context? What can existing studies tell us about the key factors which explain why jobs may vary? In exploring these questions, the chapter assesses the qualitative comparative research from the service sector and identifies gaps in the evidence. Finally, the chapter draws together the findings from existing research and uses these to put forward an analytical framework that guides the remainder of the book.

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