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The changing nature of work and agency in times of interregnum


Henning Meyer has asked my opinion on the big societal challenges likely to characterize the year we’ve just entered. There are, no doubt, many – perhaps uncountable – unresolved issues that will demand close watching during the coming year and press us for bold decisions and fateful steps. They are too numerous and most of them are too grave for my attempt to provide their full inventory to be anything but to say the least presumptuous and to smack of irresponsibility. I confine myself therefore to only two, though as I believe deserving quite a honorable place among our preoccupations.

Jerzy Kociatkiewicz, my colleague teaching at the University of Sheffield, shared with me a few days ago the following observation:


Last year, various beef and pork products sold in UK supermarkets were found to contain horsemeat. The continuing investigation was remarkable not because of uncovered dishonesty and profiteering (we have come to expect these in any story of corporate misconduct), but because it laid bare just how little managerial oversight there is in the global economy of subcontractors.


By coincidence, a couple of days ago BBC4 broadcast a “Hidden Killers” documentary, revealing among other things half-forgotten worries of the past, like exploding toilets or spontaneously combusting clothes, that between 1831 and 1854 (that is, before health and safety legislation was imposed and a workable control system was started in earnest) had been found in Britain in 2.500 products “from aluminum compounds in bread to lead chromate in mustard”.

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