Market returns? Gender and theories of change in employment relations

Sarah Irwin, Wendy Bottero

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores recent arguments about the marketization of female labour, in the context of a wider analysis of the role of concepts like 'the market' and 'individualization' in sociological accounts of change in employment relations. It will be argued that within sociology there has been a tendency for rapid, large-scale changes in employment relations to be characterized as the breakdown of social influences or structures and as the emergence of atomized, individuated market forces. In the most recent models, change in the nature of gendered positions within employment are presented in terms of a decline of social structuring and social constraint. These emergent accounts hold similarities to classical economics, and to Marx's and Weber's accounts of employment, which also characterized new forms of employment relations in terms of the emptying of their social content and their replacement by market forms. We offer an alternative, moral economy, perspective which foregrounds the continued significance of social relations in the structuring of employment and employment change. We develop the argument through an analysis of gendered patterns of employment and change in family form.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-280
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2000


  • Employment change
  • Family
  • Gender
  • Individualization
  • Market
  • Moral economy


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