division of labour

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division of labour

  1. the process whereby productive tasks become separated and more specialized. As used by the early classical economists such as Adam SMITH (1776), the term describes a specialization in workshops and the factory system, and explains the advantages accruing in terms of the increased efficiency and productivity of these new arrangements. In economic theory, the division of labour also gave rise to increased trade and exchange of goods and services based upon the ‘law of comparative advantage’ (see INTERNATIONAL TRADE). In sociology, specialization of productive tasks is seen as incorporating much more than economic efficiency in the narrow sense, and comprises a technical division of labour consisting of the subdivision of work tasks, hierarchies of skill and a structure of power and authority revealed in the relations between management and workers within the enterprise (see SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT, LABOUR PROCESS).
  2. the process of occupational specialization in society as a whole, and the separation of social life into different activities and institutions such as the family, the state and the economy, denoted by the term social division of labour. In the writings of evolutionary sociologists such as DURKHEIM or PARSONS, the concept is indistinguishable from SOCIAL DIFFERENTIATION (see also EVOLUTIONARY THEORY). Sociological analysis of occupational specialization may refer to divisions within a society (see CLASS, LOCAL LABOUR MARKETS), sectoral patterns of employment (e.g. agriculture, manufacturing and services), and also to the concentration of particular occupations or productive tasks in Third World or advanced capitalist societies respectively (see INTERNATIONAL DIVISION OF LABOUR, UNEVEN DEVELOPMENT, WORLD SYSTEM).
The effects of both the social and technical divisions of labour figure centrally in theories of social stratification. In recent years, attention has focused not only upon class differences but also upon ethnic divisions, especially the gendered nature of jobs in the labour market, the separation of the PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SPHERES and the division of labour in the household (see SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR, PATRIARCHY, DOMESTIC LABOUR, DUAL LABOUR MARKET). Thus, it is possible to talk of divisions of labour in the plural to include reproduction as well as production and the relation between commodity and non-commodity production.

DURKHEIM (1893) produced one of the most influential texts on the social division of labour. Developing an evolutionary theory of social change, he contrasts primitive and modern societies. The former are characterized by a low division of labour, a segmentary structure and a strong collective consciousness, or ‘mechanical solidarity’, as the basis of social order; modern societies exhibit a differentiated structure, greater individual consciousness and ‘organic solidarity’ (increased interdependence between the parts of society) (see MECHANICAL AND ORGANIC SOLIDARITY). It is the division of labour itself which functions to promote organic solidarity, based upon both the awareness of individuality fostered by specialization, and the corresponding dependence upon others. Thus Durkheim emphasized the social, and hence moral, functions of the division of labour, in opposition to Spencer and UTILITARIANISM which focused upon the individual pursuit of self-interest in a division of labour regulated only by contract. However, Durkheim was aware that organic solidarity was imperfectly realized in modern societies and he therefore postulated abnormal forms of the division of labour: the anomic division of labour and the forced division of labour. The former refers to situations in which the division of labour is not matched by appropriate forms of moral regulation (see ANOMIE), and the latter to coercive forms of the division of labour in which class conflict and inherited wealth prevent people from occupying positions appropriate to their natural abilities.

MARX's analysis of the division of labour contrasts markedly with that of Durkheim. Whereas Durkheim saw the solution to anomie as residing in the full development of an appropriately regulated division of labour, Marx linked the development of the division of labour to the emergence of private property, class divisions, exploitation and ALIENATION.

Under capitalism, the division of labour in machinofacture involves the progressive separation of mental from manual labour, and the subordination of labour to the requirements of commodity production. Marx traces the development of the division of labour through successive social epochs, involving the separation of towns from the countryside, the state from civil society, and industry from commerce, culminating in the extreme fragmentation of work in capitalist production. At the same time, the contradictory nature of capitalism is apparent in the capacity for increased wealth, and the need for economic cooperation in the division of labour which prefigures the eventual transcendence of capitalism by socialism. In The German Ideology, Marx envisages the abolition of the division of labour under socialism, along with the abolition of classes and private property. However, in his later works, reference is made to the continuation of a ‘realm of necessity in which a form of division of labour will continue to exist, but will be one without alienation or forced specialization.

Marx's critical analysis of the division of labour in the production process has been revived in recent years by interest in the labour process – particularly in the work of Braverman (1974). Labour process theory has focused upon the development of managerial control through the use of scientific management, mechanization and automation, in which labour is increasingly fragmented and deskilled (see DESKILLING).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
References in periodicals archive ?
Chapter 2 is devoted to reviewing the early analysis of the division of labour. Its four successive sub-sections deal respectively with Greek origins, the early Chinese literature, discussions of the topic by Islamic scholars and its examination by medieval Latin scholastics (who drew on both the ancient Greek and the Islamic traditions in commenting on the subject).
The only sticking point I have with the authors is the characterization of a migrant division of labour which is supposedly new.
In 1776, in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, having analysed the division of labour in the pin factory, commented:
The conceptualisation of a division of labour within global systems of production, expressed as the New International Division of Labour (NID), appeared in the 1970s (Wallerstein, 1974).
We have much studied and much perfected, of late, the great civilized invention of the division of labour; only we give it a false name.
The Emotional Division of Labour. Judith Doyle, author of the report, said employers would benefit if they spent more time concentrating on helping workers to socialise.
Organizing the material first by industry sector and by province (men's clothing industry or women's clothing industry in Ontario/Quebec) and then chronologically within each sector might have made it easier for the reader to extract significant comparisons and contrasts in the consequences of the sexual division of labour and union activities across sectors.
In reversing the traditional 'division of labour', the book puts the issue of difference in question.
She explains that if a woman works as a single worker or as family worker, there exists a patriarchical division of labour. Duties and work are assigned by men and, therefore, the female does not get an adequate wage rate and cannot fully utilise her abilities and skills in her work.
This view was in marked contrast to his own way of linking in the same work political superstructures to determinate social bodies which sustain them, talking about the "withering away' of certain social bodies which make the continued existence of their political superstructures an historical anachronism.8 Also, in another passage he stressed that the social soil that corresponds to the "superstructure of a centralized state power' is the "systematic and hierarchic division of labour,' thereby indicating the strongest possible reciprocal determination and mutual support between the two.9
More specifically, the creation of more productive employment opportunities could reflect the initiation of division of labour, which, in turn, forms the basis of economic growth that reflects the increased scope of industrial differentiation.

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