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Contingent Work and Its Contradictions: Towards a Moral Economy Framework

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Author Info

  • Sharon Bolton

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  • Maeve Houlihan

    ()

  • Knut Laaser

    ()

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    Abstract

    This article proposes the lens of moral economy as a useful ethical framework through which to assess HRM practice, with a particular focus on the strategic use of contingent work (‘non-standard’ employment practices including temporary, agency and outsourced work). While contingent work practices have a variety of impetuses we focus here on their strategic use in the pursuit of economic and flexibility goals. A review of the contingent work literature conveys mixed messages about its outcomes for individuals, and more opaquely, for organisations: on the one hand transferring risks yet on the other, creating opportunities. A moral economy lens views employment as a relationship rooted in a web of social dependencies, and considers that ‘thick’ relations produce valuable ethical surpluses that represent mutuality and human flourishing. Applying such an approach to the analysis of contingent work enables a fresh interpretation of contradictory individual and collective outcomes observed in the research literature. We suggest that evaluations informed by moral economy offer a more holistic appraisal of HRM practices such as contingent work, where both economic and social opportunities and costs can be more fully seen. In this way we not only highlight the ethical inadequacies of neglecting the human in HRM but also the conceptual pitfalls of analytically separating the economic from the social. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1007/s10551-012-1439-7
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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Springer in its journal Journal of Business Ethics.

    Volume (Year): 111 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 1 (November)
    Pages: 121-132

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    Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:111:y:2012:i:1:p:121-132

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    Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=100281

    Related research

    Keywords: HRM; Contingent work; Employment; Moral economy; Ethics; Human flourishing;

    References

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    1. Michael D. S. Morris & Alexander Vekker, 2001. "An Alternative Look at Temporary Workers, Their Choices, and the Growth in Temporary Employment," Journal of Labor Research, Transaction Publishers, vol. 22(2), pages 373-390, April.
    2. McGovern, Patrick & Hill, Stephen & Mills, Colin & White, Michael, 2007. "Market, Class, and Employment," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199213382, September.
    3. Simon Peel & Peter Boxall, 2005. "When is Contracting Preferable to Employment? An Exploration of Management "and" Worker Perspectives," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 42(8), pages 1675-1697, December.
    4. Gideon Kunda & Stephen R. Barley & James Evans, 2002. "Why do contractors contract? The experience of highly skilled technical professionals in a contingent labor market," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 55(2), pages 234-261, January.
    5. Leah F. Vosko, 2009. "Less than adequate: regulating temporary agency work in the EU in the face of an internal market in services," Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Cambridge Political Economy Society, vol. 2(3), pages 395-411.
    6. Brenda A. Lautsch, 2002. "Uncovering and explaining variance in the features and outcomes of contingent work," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 56(1), pages 23-43, October.
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    Cited by:
    1. Stéphanie Arnaud & David Wasieleski, 2014. "Corporate Humanistic Responsibility: Social Performance Through Managerial Discretion of the HRM," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 120(3), pages 313-334, March.

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