proletarianization


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proletarianization

  1. (MARXISM) the process whereby intermediate groups and classes (see INTERMEDIATE GROUPS) are reduced, by an inevitable logic of monopolization and capitalization, to the level of wage labourers.
  2. in more recent sociology, the process in which the work situation of some middle-class workers becomes increasingly comparable to that of the manual working class, with consequent implications for trade union and political attitudes.
In the latter, more common sociological meaning, the focus has usually been on routine WHITE-COLLAR and office workers. One of the first extensive discussions of office work in this context was that of David LOCKWOOD (1958) (see BLACK-COATED WORKER), who concluded that tendencies to proletarianization were offset by differences in the STATUS and WORK SITUATION of these workers compared with manual workers. The argument was later taken up, notably in the work of Harry Braverman (1974), who suggested that the logic of capitalist development was to deskill and routinize work wherever possible, whether by the introduction of new technology or by the reorganization of work, broadly on the principle of SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT. The outcome of these changes in the labour process was to degrade work and make redundant previous status differentials. Braverman's thesis, however, has been the subject of an extensive debate. His work has been criticized, amongst other things, for over-simplifying the degree of deskilling, neglecting the development of new occupational groups with new and high-level skills, and ignoring the extent to which workers are able to resist management pressures. Also, continuing Lockwood's theme, while it is the case that the lower sectors of white-collar and MIDDLE-CLASS occupations are comparable to manual work in some terms, e.g. pay and autonomy

important differences remain in working conditions and, for some white-collar workers, job security, sick pay and promotion prospects. Routh (1980), for instance, showed that about 80% of male white-collar workers who started in routine office work were promoted during their working lives. This is not, though, the situation for women, who comprise about 70% of routine office workers and have far fewer opportunities for upward mobility (Crompton and Jones, 1984) (see also CONTRADICTORY CLASS LOCATIONS). The situation is also complicated by the ways in which gender expectations affect market and work situations. See also CLASS, SOCIAL STRATIFICATION, SOCIAL MOBILITY, MULTIDIMENSIONAL ANALYSIS OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION, CLASS POLARIZATION, CLASS IMAGERY.