CSECL lecture: Prof. Ruth Dukes (University of Glasgow)
This paper presentation on 'The Economic Sociology of Labour Law' is part of the CSECL lecture series.
In recent years, there has been talk of a crisis in the field of labour law, as concepts and paradigms developed during the Fordist era have become increasingly ill-suited to capturing the realities of post-Fordist working relations. In the political sphere, meanwhile, a particular brand of neo-classical economic thinking about working relationships and labour law has asserted itself as orthodox, shaping the policy and legislation of governments of both the centre right and centre left, and even, over time, workers’ own perceptions of the world of work. As governments have sought to weaken existing protections and to lower labour standards in the name of flexibility and job-creation, workers have come to self-identify as entrepreneurs of themselves, entering the labour market (rather than finding a job), and making themselves marketable. Each of these developments has posed significant challenges to traditional approaches to the study of labour law, occasioning much soul-searching on the part of scholars in the field.
This paper seeks to contribute to debates regarding the posited crisis in labour law, by considering the potential contours and benefits of an ‘economic sociology of labour law’. As the coverage of trade union membership and collective bargaining has contracted, and as employment rights have been weakened, the scope of their application narrowed, and their enforcement rendered more costly or more difficult, the contract has asserted itself as the primary legal institution in the field of working relations. Consequently, it has become necessary, I argue to adopt or develop an approach to the study of labour law that allows us to apprehend the process of contracting for work as a form of private ordering; one that is shaped directly and indirectly by the complex of applicable legal rules and institutions, and by other aspects of the social and economic context within which it proceeds. The act of contracting for work should be understood to have at its core a (market) exchange of labour power for wages, or some other form of payment, and to be, at the same time, a self-consciously legal act with important social dimensions. Our newly elaborated approach must allow us to take account of each of these aspects of contracting behaviour – the economic, the legal and the social – and of the different dimensions of the relevant context.
About the speaker
Ruth Dukes is Professor of Labour Law and Principal Investigator on the European Research Council funded project Work on Demand: Contracting for Work in a Changing Economy. She joined the University of Glasgow in 2005 and holds degrees from the University of Edinburgh (LLB), the Humboldt University in Berlin (LLM with distinction), and the London School of Economics (PhD).
Professor Dukes is a member of the Young Academy of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Executive Committee of the Institute of Employment Rights and the Project Board of the Jimmy Reid Foundation. In 2011/12 she was an Early Career Fellow of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and a MacCormick Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She currently has a visiting position at Osgoode Hall, York University, Toronto.
Dukes has published numerous articles, book chapters, case notes and reports addressing questions of labour law and labour history – among them, the article 'Otto Kahn-Freund and Collective Laissez-Faire:an Edifice without a Keystone?’, winner of the Modern Law Review’s Wedderburn Prize 2009. Her 2014 monograph, The Labour Constitution: the Enduring Idea of Labour Law (OUP), was widely reviewed and formed the subject of a Symposium in the 2018 volume of Jurisprudence.
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