The Recommodification of European Labour: Theoretical and Empirical Explorations

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paper


During the last fifteen years European Union member states implemented extensive reforms in their social and labour market policies. The paper argues that these reforms aimed at, and resulted in, the intensification of commodification of European Labour by reducing the de-commodifying properties of policies that protected Labour in and out of the labour market. The paper sets to explore this process of recommodification both theoretically and empirically. Accordingly, the first part of the paper begins with a critical review of earlier attempts to conceptualise the processes of de- and re- commodification. An alternative conceptualisation is proposed, based on three fundamental principles. First, that the analytical division between labour market policies and social policies is artificial and to large extent unhelpful. Second, that both the (labour) market, and the policies that regulate and govern it, are instituted processes, structured and maintained by the state, and always-embedded in society. Third, that the continuous ‘constitution’ of the (labour) market in market societies is a power dynamic between social agents that unfolds in three interlinked dimensions; discursive, structural and relational. According to this power-theoretical conceptualisation, recommodification is a dynamic process involving the intensification of the commodification of Labour in and out of the labour market across these three dimensions. The second part of the paper sketches an empirical approach that identifies relevant trends. Discursively, during the period under investigation, the paper explores the gradual rise to dominance of the discursive repertoire of pro-market elites that framed social and labour market policies in ways that rendered this intensification both ‘necessary’ and desirable. Regarding the structural and relational dimensions the paper explores the changes in the institutionalised forms of Labour’s protection in and out of paid employment. This is achieved by the empirical exploration of variations between and within fourteen European Union member states vis-a-vis indices of protection in and out of paid employment; namely, an index of the strength of employment protection legislation and an index of the decommodifying potential of unemployment compensation policies. The results indicate that during the decade 1993-2003 the commodification of European Labour intensified, though with considerable degree of variation between the fourteen countries.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBath, UK
PublisherEuropean Research Institute, University of Bath
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 2005


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