Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies

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A4 Fragmented Worlds of Work in the (Post-)Pandemic: The Production of Inequality through Figures of Migrant Workers

Prof. Dr. Hajo Holst

Hajo Holst, Foto: Simone Reukauf

Osnabrück University

The project deals with the production and legitimization of migration-related hierarchizations and segmentations in the world of work during and after the Corona pandemic. Using case studies from three fields of low-skilled work - industrial production, logistics and hospitality - the role of images of migrant workers in the production of inequalities in fragmented organizations is scrutinized. Firstly, the project examines the influence of ascribed and naturalized competences, skills and mentalities on position assignments in organizations. By categorizing workers, the nationally and/or ethnically coloured, sometimes also racializing figures contribute to the hierarchization and segmentation of work. Secondly, the role of the figures in social relations is examined. The categorizations are not only involved in the allocation of positions, but also drive the social fragmentation of workforces by constituting migrant groups. Thirdly, we examine which actors with which interests are involved in the (re-)production and (re-)negotiation of these figures. Besides external actors from municipalities and NGOs, managers and works councils as well as migrant and non-migrant workers also involved in these processes. And fourthly, the project reflects on potential changes in the images since the beginnig of the coronavirus pandemic.  The pandemic has triggered social discussions about the value of work and brought the working and living conditions of particularly vulnerable groups in the spotlight.

By analyzing the images of migrant workers in three fields of unskilled simple work heavily populated by migrant workers, the project makes a contribution to the empirical foundation of reflexive migration research and at the same time addresses a gap in sociological labor research. Sociologists of work have intensively studied the fragmentation of both organizations and work for quite some years. The analytical starting point, however, are usually corporate interests, while workers are predominantly constructed as passive victims of corporate action. By analysing the everyday (re-)negotiations of the images of migrant workers in fragmented organizations, the project analyzes  workers' participation (both migrant and non-migrant) in the hierarchization and segmentation of work (without ignoring the structuring effects of power asymmetries and social vulnerabilities). At the same time, the project is also of particular interest for migration research. The reflexive research program is applied to a central sphere of participation in the societies of the global North (gainful employment) and to an area that is central to the participation of people with a migration background (low-skilled work).

Methodologically, the project is based on a comparative case study design. The case studies are comprised of fragmented organizations from three fields of low-skilled work with high numbers of migrant workers:  industrial production, hospitality and logistics. In addition to similarities, the three fields also exhibit significant differences that make a comparison of the constitutive role of migrant workers in fragmented organizations interesting. The empirical basis of the case studies are qualitative interviews and workplace observations.