Social Scientist. v 13, no. 149-50 (Oct-Nov 1985) p. 86.


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SHEILA ALLEN^

The Labour Process and Working at Home

BRITISH society in the 1980s urgently needs the development of theory adequate to the problems which are being experienced by many sections of the population. The structuring and meaning of unemployment; the increase in povertyŚ through low-waged sectors and the development of a system of social insecurity, the myth of the small firm or individual enterprise as a solution to the crises of monopoly capitalism.

Weber's influence on industrial sociology remains dominant, but the past two decades have seen a revival of ideas presented in the work of other theorists; in some circles Marx is the front-runner, in others Durkheim, with the largely unattributed ideas ofSimmel scattered throughout work ranging from marxist to functionalist. The sociology of industry and of industrial societies in its present state owes a great debt to them. One reason for this revival is that these thinkers addressed themselves to critical social questions and ways of analysing them in order to understand the forces of change in society.

Theory can, by analysing causes and making visible consequences, underpin programmes or policies which aim to reduce suffering and hardship and more positively create the possibility of an alternative, more equitable, ordering of social relations. The development of theory can be a very practical activity rather than a rather self-indulgent picking over of concepts without reference to the realities of social relations they are intended to order and explain.

The introduction of data into a discussion of theory creates difficulties which are not easily or smoothly overcome and a retreat into the bland packaging of concepts has immense academic attractions. My present research, a project on homeworking, raises in acute form the inadequacies and flaws in the theories which currently enjoy a high degree of credibility as explanations of the social relations of work in capitalist societies.

Much of the theory renders itself irrelevant by adeptmg assumptions which exclude the possibility of explaining the work and working lives of large sections of the population. The list of those not incorporated into the

* Dean of the Board of Studies in Social Sciences and Professor of Sociology, University of Bradford, U.K. '



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