‘Flexible’ work, precarious future: some lessons from the Canadian clothing industry

Authors


  • This paper was originally presented at the annual meetings of the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Society and the Socialist Studies Society, University of Prince Edward Island, May 1992. The research on which it is based was carried out for a doctoral degree in social anthropology at the University of Toronto. Financial support was received from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. My thanks to Pat Armstrong, Jane Jenson and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. This manuscript was received in June, 1992 and accepted in November, 1992.

Abstract

Cette communication est consacrée à l'analyse de la relation entre le régime de travail «souple» et la construction culturelle du travail. Selon l'auteure, on a toujours reconnue que la souplesse était une caractéristique du capitalisme, sans pour autant reconnaǐtre que le phénomène comporte une différenciation sexuelle. Le régime de travail souple existe depuis longtemps dans l'industrie du větement, où elle prend les formes de la sous-traitance et du travail à domicile. En plus de rendre compte d'une étude de cas ethnographique de ces formes dans l'industrie du větement en Ontario qui montre comment la flexibilité est introduite et vécue empiriquement, l'auteure soulève plusieurs questions qui méritent d'ětre étudiées plus à fond.

This paper explores the connection between labour ‘flexibility’ and the cultural construction of work. It argues that while flexibility has always been a feature of capitalism, the gendered nature of that flexibility has been overlooked both historically and in contemporary discourse. The clothing industry has a long history of utilizing a flexible workforce through subcontracting and homework. Using an ethnographic case study of these forms of work in the clothing industry in Ontario, this paper demonstrates how flexibility is implemented and experienced empirically, and raises some questions for further consideration.

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