T1-07: New challenges at the workplace and in society

7 September 2019, 09:00–10:30

Chair: Roberto Pedersini


Investigating and transforming resonance (RESet)

Philipp Gies, Center for Labour and Political Education (zap), University of Bremen

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-209-Gies.pdf

In our research project RESet at the Center for Labour and Political Education (zap) at the University of Bremen we look at the current crisis of democracy and representation in Germany. From this we investigate the results of individual and societal frictions as well as experiences of exclusion and marginalization within the society. (Decker 2016; Bofinger et al. 2012) We recognize a strong connection between societal and political exclusion on the one hand an (in-)stability of employment relations on the other. (For instances as results from digitalization of work, increase of atypical employment, growing precarization and the lasting risk of unemployment and hence risk of poverty.) We analyze the relation of persons towards their work and towards the democratic system in the context of Hartmut Rosas resonance theory.  Following the empirical studies we aim to highlight  possibilities of (political) adult education to react and change current developments.

The concept “resonance“ comprises a certain modus of relation of each individual towards their environment, like political structures, workplace, civil society or simply towards other individuals. It is a reciprocal answer-relation, meaning both sides act with their own voice and reacting to each other. The opposite of resonance thus is alienation.

We expect that the postulated political crisis emerges both from a rising alienation - in the sense of the two sides not recognizing and understanding each other - and individually lacking participation of citizens – resulting from an absence of competences and/or missing engagement from institutions. Increasingly both sides do not recognize each other and will not foster the necessary reciprocal answer-relation. (Rosa 2016: 298) We see continuous and stable employment relations as one central factor against alienation within the society. It is - seen as standard employment relation - providing material resources, delivering capabilities, offering interactions and possibly meaningful work activities. Thus, endowing the individual a position and identification within society. The loss of work or even a precarious situation compromises (or even cuts) these possibilities of being part of the resonance relation. (Rosa 2012) Failing to balance the role of work through other social and cultural spheres individuals tend towards isolation, apathy and radicalization against society.

The diverse social status groups are affected differently. Especially unemployed, people in precarious situations and people bound to the low-wage sector bear a higher risk of feeling (and being) excluded and marginalized from society.  (Dörre et al. 2013, Bernhard 2016) Being hardly equipped with material resources, having hardly securities to plan ahead and often without (employee) representation, has a likely impact on self-efficacy. One reason could be that precarious work relations won't lead towards the nexus of voice and entitlement – meaning the comprehensible entanglement of articulating ones interest (voice) and gaining on the other hand effective rights and obligations (entitlement) on  democratic terms. Without that nexus decisions are likely not representing ones own interests. And in general societal developments can't be perceptible and  acceptable, which would be the core for a functioning relation between individual and society. (Mückenberger 2010)

Hence, we investigate and work together with long-term unemployed. We expect that the perception of societal participation is strongly influenced by the opportunities to work and thus reflecting self-esteem and personal competences.  Additionally, we interview experts of state institutions and work related measures to gain insight of the other side connected to the answer-relation between individual and society.

In a wider development, we see changes through the digitalization of the working environment, leading to restructuring new developments of whole industrial sectors. In the civil society it leads for one part to a digital social space in which communications, opinions and arguments can be gained and distributed on online platforms. Training political and social digital competences takes an ever greater role in education and measures for unemployed, especially with regard to   the labor market and societal/political participation. We advocate the use of digital tools in the context of (adult) education and trainings.  Therefore, we highlight and test in our research transfer experimental methods to co-create corresponding tools.

We want to set up more positive resonance relations as we believe that these help to strengthen the integration of and identification with democratic societies. Succeeding in giving all groups of society likewise the perception and affiliation of resonance allows for stabilizing democracy in its entirety. And so we hope to gain insight on current resonance relations of the German society and to understand the effect of frictions and alienations between individuals, society and politics. Consequently, we try to evaluate following questions: At which times can an individual friction lead to an alienation with society itself? What are the central factors stopping or accelerating these developments? How can, given further digitalization, new (digital) societal relations be established? Which impact have employment relations on societal participation? How can our findings transfer in practical approaches of adult education? And which impact can digital tools have in this field? With nearly two years of research in September 2019 we want to answer some of these questions within track 1 of the ILERA 2019.


  • Bernhard, Chr. (2016): Materielle Lebensbedingungen im Grundsicherungsbezug. in: Hans-Böckler-Stiftung (Edit.), Krisenerfahrung Hartz IV: Lebenssituationen im Grundsicherungsbezug. Schwerpunktheft. WSI Mitteilungen, No. 69 (5), Düsseldorf, 344–352.
  • Bofinger, P.; Habermas, J.; Nida-Rümelin, J. (2012): Einspruch gegen die Fassadendemokratie, in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 03.08.2012, http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/debatten/europas-zukunft/kurswechs... [24.01.2019].
  • Decker, F. (2016): Demokratie ohne Wähler, Politik ohne Bürger. Neue Herausforderungen für die Politikwissenschaft, in: Gallus, A. (Edit.), Politikwissenschaftliche Passagen. Deutsche Streifzüge zur Erkundung eines Faches, Baden-Baden, 109–128.
  • Dörre, K.; Scherschel, K.; Booth, M.; Haubner, T.; Marquardsen, K.; Schierhorn, K. (Edit.) (2013): Bewährungsproben für die Unterschicht? Soziale Folgen aktivierender Arbeitsmarktpolitik, Frankfurt am Main.
  • Mückenberger, U. (2010): Demokratische Einhegung der Globalisierung? Neue Akteurskonstellationen bei universellen Normbildungsprozessen, in: KJ Kritische Justiz, No. 43 (1), 38–45.
  • Rosa, H. (2012): Arbeit und Entfremdung, in: Dörre, K.; Sauer, D.; Wittke, V. (Edit.), Kapitalismustheorie und Arbeit. Neue Ansätze soziologischer Kritik, , Frankfurt am Main, 410–420.
  • – (2016): Resonanz. Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung, Berlin.

RESet Homepage

That is just part of being able to do my cool job

Working conditions and interest formulation in self-enterprising sectors in the Netherlands

Wike M. Been, University of Amsterdam

Future projections of how the labour market is going to function imagine workers to be highly networked individuals, running their personal ‘self’ as an enterprise and collaborating within temporary project coalitions. The creative industries are often seen as the test ground where these kinds of models are already implemented, as they are characterized by project-based work, portfolio careers, temporary collaborations, a high self-employment rate and a centrality of entrepreneurship. Even though some see this as the model of work for the future, others point out the often low job quality for workers in the creative industries. With the exception of the view lucky individuals who ‘score a hit’, work in the creative industry is in many instances precarious and insecure, with relatively low pay, high volatility and inadequate access to social security, so is reported in the literature. Accordingly, it presents serious problems in terms of working conditions. Nevertheless, at the same time it is reported that many perceive high job quality regardless these poor working conditions. Poor working conditions not necessarily coinciding with an experience of low job quality is in the literature explained by a potential trade-off taking place between different aspects of job quality such as pay against a high level of autonomy and creativity, aspects that are expected to be highly valued by those working in the creative industries. This might also have consequences for the way workers formulate their interests posing a potential challenge for trade unions to organize employees. In this study we focus on understanding the potential trade-off taking place between working conditions and what this means for how workers formulate their interests.

We depart from typical individual and industry characteristics. Workers in the creative industries are often described as high intrinsically motivated and having a great passion for what they do. The highly intrinsically motivated creatives are willing to compromise on their wages and working conditions in exchange for the opportunity to do the work they aspire to do, so the argument goes in the literature. If it is seen as a price that has to be paid to be able to do this type of work and workers see it as an inescapable characteristic and thus have a priori expectations about the working conditions upon entering the sector (and decide it is worth it), working conditions are removed from being topics of conflict in the workplace and enter the realm of individual decision making. This in turn makes it less likely that they will argue for better conditions both individually and collectively. In addition, in the hit-driven and networked labour markets characterized by portfolio careers, failure or success –also in terms of income- becomes highly personal and one’s own responsibility. Again, when it is perceived a personal responsibility, workers are unlikely to argue for better conditions.

Even though the creative industries are often addressed as one industry, there is actually quite some variation between and within its different subsectors. In order to be able to take variation into account, we systematically compare the graphic design industry and the games industry in the Netherlands. Both industries are characterized by traits of the labour market of the future. Neither industry has a collective agreement in place. Nevertheless, the organization of work seems to vary quite a bit, with many freelance workers in the graphic design industry whereas most workers in the games industry are employees. Semi-structured interviews were held with employees, freelance workers and employers in both industries (25 interviews in total), complemented with interviews at the institutional level (15 interviews).

Preliminary results show that there is quite some income variation with the highest volatility among starting freelance workers in the graphic design industry and starting entrepreneurs and Indie game developers in the games industry. One of the explanations lies indeed on the level of typical worker characteristics of those working in the creative industries: by being a freelance worker or having one’s own Indie game company, workers have large autonomy over their work: something that they value highly. However, the other side of it is that they often also have no other option than to work as a freelance worker or to start their own company if they want to work in the industry (something that they want badly because of their intrinsic motivation for the work), because there are so few employee positions available for the number of people interested (oversupply of labour). In the graphic design industry this related to the organization of the work: a large part of the industry exists out of freelance workers, whereas in the games industry this is caused by it being still a small industry, although growing, compared to the number of people that graduate from game related educational tracks.

Whether income volatility is perceived as problematic depends highly on the safety net workers perceive: if they have back up options, for example ‘hotel mama’, a partner with a steady income or regard the basic social security schemes sufficient to cover their costs of living; they do not regard their low income problematic. For these workers, the high job quality caused by other aspects of the work, such as high autonomy, possibility for self-realization and creativity, are more important. But even when workers perceive it as problematic, they often see it as a given tribute of working in the sector. It is therefore perceived as their ‘own choice’ and something they can only change by making their company successful not as something they can change by collective organization. Trade unions and professional organizations recognize this and try to reach out to workers by offering services.

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