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Chapter 16

SOCI 1F90 Chapter 16: Exploring Sociology - Work and the Political Economy

Course Code
Michelle Webber

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Exploring Sociology Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Chapter 16: Work and the Political Economy (pg. 416 – 445)
Economies Through Time
Economy – social arrangements that organize the production, distribution, and consumption of goods
The review of changing human economics relies on Gerhard Lenski’s (1996) classification system of subsistence
patterns through time
His work reveals how different subsistence patterns can result in the emergence of very different social
Hunting and Gathering
Hunting and Gathering – an economic system based on small nomadic groups lightly exploiting animal and
plant foods for immediate consumption
By ensuring a diverse food supply, our ancestors were able to protect themselves from overexploiting any single
animal or plant resource and secure a stable diet for everyone
Hunters an gatherers had few possessions and lived in small, mobile groups (about 25 to 50 people) that followed
whatever food resources were available in a given territory
In these societies, all healthy people participated in acquiring food for the group
Because of this daily obligation, there was little opportunity to develop specializations such as tool
making, and this meant hunting and gathering economies were not technologically advanced
Because there was very little accumulation of wealth, social inequality was virtually nonexistent
Everyone knew what was expected of them, and what people did was closely connected to how they lived
This close connection between individuals who worked together was precisely what Durkheim envisioned
when he described mechanical solidarity
Mechanical solidarity is based on people’s similarities and yet grants them relative independence
Horticulturalism – an economic system based on domesticating animals and plants
Lenski outlined two types of horticulturalist societies: simple and complex
Simple societies relied on digging sticks and were relatively small
Complex societies employed metal hoes that generated more food and allowed a more advanced and
complex social hierarchy to emerge
Many early horticulturalists practiced shifting cultivation (slash-and-burn, milpa, or swidden cultivation)
Groups would often cycle through a given area until the soil became exhausted and return to regions they
had previously cultivated (once the soil was fertile again)
Slash-and-burn technique: cut down and burned the ground cover in order to increase the soil’s fertility,
with the burnt vegetation acting as a fertilizer
Horticulturalism led to many dramatic changes in people’s working lives
Because they produced substantially more food, small bands expanded into tribes of several thousand
Because of the surplus of food, some workers were able to remove themselves from daily subsistence
work and spend time making more sophisticated tools
Opportunities existed to pursue tasked that allowed them to demonstrate their individual skills
and abilities
Full-time religious specialists and formal leadership structures (i.e. chiefs) emerged
Pastoralism – an economic system based on tending herds or large animals
The species of animals varies depending on the region
But, they all live in herds and eat grasses or other abundant plant foods
Pastoralists are usually nomadic, following their herds as they migrate from one area to another according to the
Pastoral societies generate a regular surplus and can support some full-time specialists

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Social inequality increases as wealthy families begin to accumulate larger herds than others
With the emergence of the idea that people could “own” their animals, we see evidence of inequality
linked to the concept of wealth
Since social profile and influence are associated with wealthy individuals, people began to focus on
accumulating resources to gain social stature
Agriculture – an economic system that employs plow technology
Led to dramatically increased population densities because it produced so much caloric wealth for a
comparatively small investment of time and energy
By using animals to pull plows, food production increased exponentially and allowed society to change in ways
that were previously incomprehensible
This period is generally referred to as the Agricultural Revolution
The most obvious change was the population growth
Large cities could now be supported by agricultural surpluses
Workers became specialists in virtually every possible endeavor – metallurgy, art, crafts, woodworking, and
People were also able to study and learn more about the world around them
Literacy, mathermatics, and scientific studies increases
Allowed social inequality to accelerate
The agricultural surpluses were controlled by a few wealthy families, with many others remaining poor
even though there was more food than ever before
For the first time in human history, people were able to make a living by trading their specialized skills for food
As the need for these goods and services increased, a universal medium of exchange (money) was
established to facilitate efficient trade
Industrialization – an economic system based on using nom-animate sources of energy (i.e. steam, water, fossil
fuels) to produce goods
The Industrial Revolution transformed the very nature of human society:
New sources of power
People were able to use energy sources that were far more powerful than human and animal
Centralization of work
People moved from farms to live in cities and become laborers in factories
Factory work was generally impersonal and unfulfilling
Mass production
Economy based on turning raw materials into a wide range of finished products that were
distributed far beyond the local area
Workers were required to perform small, menial tasks that collectively resulted in the finished
The overall skill level of the workers and work declined
Wage labour
Workers exchanged their sweat and toil for wages from factory owners
Post-Industrialization – an economic system based on knowledge-based activities and the service sector rather
than on manufacturing goods
Refers to reorganization of society, resulting from the growth of information technology, global
communications media, the service sector, global consumerism, integrated financial markets, and cultural
Our economy has moved from an industrial model of exploiting raw materials and human physical labour to an
industrial model based on supplying services or information

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New industries based on ideas are becoming increasingly powerful (ex. Microsoft)
Large factories in the Western world are being challenged by smaller, more flexible companies spread around the
globe that are focused on the creation, analysis, and distribution of information with the click of a mouse
Shift to part-time work is the result of:
Rising educational requirements for jobs and the consequent need for people to stay in school longer
Increasing numbers of women joining the workforce and thus heightening the competition for jobs
The shift toward jobs in the service industries
Some suggest that the changing nature of wage labour in industrialized economies has failed to even mention –
until recently – the increasing number of people who find themselves underemployed, or those who engage in
unpaid labour of all kinds
There is also the challenge of balancing one’s personal life with the demands of work, and this becomes ever
more challenging in the face of wage depiction and increased educational requirements for even entry-level jobs
The pace of change in our working lives appears to be accelerating
The World of Work
The Three Sectors of the Economy
Primary Sector – jobs dedicated to exploiting raw materials from the natural environment
Example: logging, mining, farming, and fishing
Secondary Sector – jobs that transform raw materials into consumer goods
Example: furniture and cars
Tertiary Sector – jobs that provide services, rather than goods
Example: teaching, nursing, policing, waitressing, and physiotherapy
Professions and “McJobs”
Primary Labour Market – jobs that provide stable and comfortable salaries, potential for growth and promotion,
and fringe benefits, but also requires postsecondary training or education
These professions include medical doctors, lawyers, engineers, academics, and members of the clergy
Professions – prestigious occupations that require specialized knowledge and are regulated by a governing body
To qualify as a profession, at least 6 characteristics must be present:
A common body of specialized knowledge
A set of regulated performance standards
A representative professional organization
An external perception by the public as a profession
A code of ethics
A formal program of training as well as ongoing professional development
Secondary Labour Market – jobs that are insecure and temporary, offer minimal pay, and provide few
opportunities to advance
Jobs in the secondary labour market are commonly referred to as “McJobs”
George Ritzer defines McDonaldization as “the process by which the principles of the fast-food
restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society, as well as the rest
of the world”
These principles include: efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control
Ritzer argues that these principles culminate in jobs that devalue, demean, and oppress the worker
Labour Unions
Labour Unions – organizations that represent workers to improve wages and working conditions through
collective bargaining and strikes
The union movement began in the 18th century
The introduction of machines resulted in downward pressure on workers’ salaries
The fall of wages and the deterioration of the working environment led some workers to realize that they
needed to join together for their collective good
Unionization in Canada has become far more polarized by age, with younger workers experiencing sharper
declines in union membership than older workers
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