LEST Institute of Labour Economics and Industrial Sociology UMR 7317

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Programme B

« Labour markets, occupations and trajectories»

Thursday 27 December 2012, by Last Update

Annie Lamanthe and Stéphanie Moullet

List of researchers involved in the programme
Anne-Marie Arborio. Claire Bidart. Thierry Blôss. Paul Bouffartigue. Jacques Bouteiller (associated researcher). Marie-Laure Buisson. Leslie Anne Carrer (associated researcher). Mario Correia. Vanessa Di Paola. Annie Lamanthe. Katia Melnik (associated researcher). Mustapha El Miri. Caroline Lanciano-Morandat. Philippe Méhaut. Delphine Mercier (associated researcher). Philippe Mossé. Stéphanie Moullet. Hirohatsu Nohara. Jean-René Pendariès, Francesca Petrella. Nadine Richez-Battesti. José Rose. Eric Verdier. Nathalie Louit-Martinod. Isabelle Shockaert.

This programme is positioned at the junction between labour economics, the sociology of work, the economics and sociology of education, the sociology of occupations, the sociology of young people, management sciences (human resource management) and political science (public action).
It is concerned with the dynamics of labour market segmentation social categories and occupational groups, with a particular focus on the interfaces between individual trajectories and social change. How are career trajectories linked to changes in contexts and norms? How are institutions responding to the challenges posed by the flexibilisation and diversification of trajectories? How are the modes of socialisation and training adapting to changes in the labour market? The programme brings together researchers who adopt a dynamic perspective and a multidimensional approach to investigating various aspects of segmentation in the world of work. Issues linked to various forms of inequality are a fundamental concern, whether related to education, employment, labour market entry, working and employment conditions or health and safety at work and whether analysed on the basis of their objective dimensions or their modes of social and cognitive construction. The programme makes frequent use of international comparisons and studies that put the realities of different countries into context. The emphasis is on comparisons of different moments in time and process-based analyses, which are used to shed light on the dynamics, pace and chronology of change. Firm and sector-based approaches are also used. The programme also has a pronounced emphasis on methodologies, particularly longitudinal methodologies (analysis of the sequencing of biographical events, panels, long-term approach to career trajectories, etc.), the development of qualitative and quantitative tools as means of capturing trajectories in context, multi-level analyses and analyses of social networks.
The issue of ‘sustainability’ is addressed by investigating the possible degrees of consistency or contradiction between the various aspects of economic and social development that are explored in the programme. After all, whether its starting point is labour markets, working and employment conditions, labour market entry processes, burnout, initial or continuing training or changes in the social forms of domination or discrimination, most of the research has to take account of the tensions linking the dynamics of its initial focus of attention to other phenomena, however closely or distantly related they may be. ‘Sustainability’, which determines the viability and durability of the processes involved, is constructed in these interfaces. For example, the reconciliation of working and non-working time, the organisation of social protection systems, the factors relevant to decision-making in contexts of uncertainty, the social determinants of problems with labour market entry or accidents at work, the creation of migratory knowledge, the new forms of labour market segmentation, biographical turning points or reconfigurations of personal networks are all research objects that provide a basis for exploring the links and tensions between heterogeneous, changing systems. Thus we will investigate how societies ‘construct’ their young people, their workers and their unemployed; how biographies as ‘institutions’ are reacting to the uncertainties of trajectories and histories; how processes of individualisation are being constructed and diversified; how migratory trajectories are being constructed, etc. The process of globalisation has helped to set these interfaces in motion, disrupting them, laying them bare or making them more complex. It has accentuated their porosity as well as the divides between North and South, between social, economic, political and environmental inequalities and between occupational systems, educational systems, labour markets, modes of integration, etc. Since it cannot be reflected solely in terms of homogenisation, it takes a specific form in each society and in each of the objects analysed. These issues are investigated in five complementary strands of research within the programme.

1. Labour markets, HRM, working conditions, health

The aim of this first strand is to establish better links between studies of (internal and external) labour markets, forms of HRM and occupational mobility, on the one hand, and those concerned with working conditions and health, on the other. What are the links between the various forms of mobility over the working life and the ‘sustainability’ of working conditions, in the sense of their being ‘compatible with the maintenance and development of employees’ health, skills and employability’? These links are part of the societal dynamics that now being put to the test by globalisation. In France, for example, pension reforms and incentives to increase the employment rate among those of pensionable age are coming up against a mode of age management in which the economically active population in employment is concentrated in the 25-55 age group. The question of the employment rate among older workers cannot be dissociated from the quality of working conditions over the working life as a whole. Is economic globalisation tending to accentuate this societal specificity or is it in fact declining? Our research has already produced a series of findings on the links, in certain sectors and among particular occupational groups, between employment issues, on the one hand, and working conditions and health, on the other. These links will be analysed in greater detail: to what extent are they a reflection of intensification effects between the ‘employment’ and ‘work’ dimensions of wage work? Stability in a work environment is often associated with an upward trajectory towards less arduous jobs and better health, but stability of employment in low-skill positions exposed to occupational risks goes hand in hand with damaged health. How do the interactions between working conditions, occupational mobility and health vary at different stages of the working life? Why is it difficult, particularly in certain industries, to establish organised approaches to the prevention of occupational risks?
Industrial relations and the new forms of public action on the links between work and health will also be investigated in greater depth. Under what conditions can the prevention of occupational risks become a component of the occupational skill of young employees in small firms? This question proves to be crucial, both normatively and as a social issue (small firms recruit many young workers, and exposure to the risk of workplace accidents is considerably greater in small firms than in large ones).

2. Migration, intergenerational relations and the transnational structuring of labour markets

From the point of view of transnational spaces, the studies currently in progress are looking at migration through the prisms of circulating knowledge, labour markets and the reconstitution of intergenerational relations. Their objective is to link together the spatial, economic and temporal dimensions of international mobility. The approach adopted involves analysing the resources committed to international mobility (cross-border or transnational) from the point of view of social and/or familial reproduction and mobility and evaluating the reconstitutions generated by migration in two spheres directly linked to migration, namely labour markets and intergenerational arrangements within families. Thus the aim here is to combine the standard transnational approaches with second-generation approaches to the consolidation of migratory flows from the first to the second generation of migrants.

3. Pathways and careers: longitudinal approaches to mobility and occupations

This third strand brings together quantitative and qualitative approaches to pathways (itineraries, trajectories, careers) that establish links between labour markets and biographical pathways (occupational mobility, turning points, family events, experiences of precarious employment and unemployment, downgrading/regrading, links between biographical transitions and changes in personal networks, etc.). Some studies take a firm or industry-based approach, with the aim of revealing the linkages between individual trajectories and the history of the firms or industries in question. Others analyse sequences of biographical transitions at the junction of the various spheres of life and against the background of the societal systems within which the transitions take place. This strand will focus on processes of socialisation and labour market integration and mobility, as well as on the dynamics of the construction of inequalities and occupational segmentation.
The purpose of longitudinal approaches is to produce more detailed information on dynamics by unravelling the thread of time by means of repeated investigations. Particular attention continues to be paid to young people and the ‘entered into working life, entered into adult life’ biographical sequences. In particular, youth is a sequence characterised by powerful tensions between the dynamics of the education system and those of the labour market, between individual trajectories and the institutions in which they unfold in increasingly long and desynchronised processes. These changes and adjustments can only be understood by incorporating interactions with the private sphere (leaving home, finding accommodation, setting up home as a couple, arrival of children) into the analysis. This raises the question of the ‘sustainability’ of these tensions, as is very clearly reflected in the debates on downgrading and methods of measuring it, which have to rely on a combination of objective and subjective indicators. An international perspective will also be present here.

4. Inequalities, segmentation and occupations

Globalisation is accentuating the dynamics of inequality that are embedded in various histories, particularly national ones, and societal contexts. The differentiations and inequalities often described as ‘societal’, in the sense that they cause different social groups to be constructed in different ways, are being reshaped, particularly for groups that are either disadvantaged or privileged in labour markets. The aim in this research strand will be to analyse the complex processes that are reshaping social divisions and inequalities. An international comparative perspective is adopted in order to illuminate these processes.
For example, the fairly widespread phenomenon of the student wage-earner, which is linked to the development of mass higher education, the different forms of social welfare and family benefits, changes in the supply of part-time, casual jobs and, undoubtedly, the rise to prominence of a new model of skill construction, varies in extent and form from country to country.
Research is also in progress on the processes of social recomposition that can be observed in the countries of the ‘South’ and on the borders between North and South, and in particular on the migratory phenomena associated with work, on the dynamics of occupational groups and on individual and collective mobilisation. From this point of view, the categorisations of public policies occasioned by these processes, as well as changes in the wage relationship (informalisation, formalisation, precarisation) and the relationships between globalisation and lifestyles, are regarded here as so many facets of a mirror magnifying more universal processes of recomposition.
Studies of the dynamics and segmentation of occupational groups and of the various forms of internal labour market destabilisation in France and Japan are being conducted in conjunction with the investigations into changes in the relations between firms and society that are in progress in programme A.

5. The dynamics of education/training systems and social recomposition

The various forms of segmentation and inequality are ‘produced’ by social systems and processes. Changes taking place in initial and continuing training systems are being examined in this strand in the light of their role in creating inequalities in the labour market and in the recomposition of social segmentation. Education and training policies are also one of the areas in which the international process of management tool transfer is visible, although the modes of appropriation, at both national and local level, differ very considerably.
International comparative research is also taking place on the links between the various education and training ‘regimes’ and social cohesion. The aim here is to analyse ‘what education does to society’ as it helps to a greater or lesser degree to strengthen vertical and horizontal social ties, which is another way of approaching ‘sustainability’. Initial studies have revealed the importance of taking into account the quality of links between education/training and the labour market (particularly imbalances).
Finally, following on from studies carried out in the previous four-year contract period, research will be conducted into the societal challenges posed by shortcomings in education and training in the Maghreb. These studies will examine how education systems in the region can evolve towards a universalist understanding of education that would overcome the uncertainties of ‘segregative democratisation’, which is all the more enduring because of the persistence of considerable inequalities linked to the status of the various official, unofficial and tolerated languages of instruction.