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Employment, flexible working and the family

This paper assesses some of the implications of one of the major social changes to have taken place in the West during the second half of the twentieth century — that is, the increased employment of women, together with normative changes in gender relations and in women's expectations. These changes have been linked to an increase in individualism, which itself is associated with the transcendence of ‘first modernity’. Thus it is suggested that new approaches to social analysis are required (Beck). Here it is argued that, rather than develop completely new approaches in order to grasp the changes that are under way, the ‘economic’ and the ‘social’ (that is, employment and the family) should be seen as intertwined, rather than approached as separate phenomena. Past debates in feminism, changes in the family, and flexible employment are critically examined. The growing tensions between employment and family life are discussed. It is argued that these changes are associated with the intensification of capitalist development, rather than reflecting a fundamental transformation of society. Existing approaches to the analysis of social change, including Polanyi's analysis of the development of ‘counter-movements’ against the ‘self-regulating’ market, will, therefore, still be relevant to our enquiries. In the concluding section, a programme of research that would examine these changes is outlined.

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British Journal of Sociology

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