Conceptions of labor and national cultures: diverging visions of freedom

Philippe d’Iribarne,  Am Journal of Cultural Sociology, Volume 7. Number 3. December 2019 (published online : 18 January 2019

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Studies that relate cultural differences in specific fields of social life to broader cultural differences are wanting in cultural sociology. To show that this type of interlinking can prove fruitful, we focus on cross-country differences in labor relations, starting from the conceptions of wage labor in Britain and Germany that emerged from the late seventeenth century onwards. A first level of culture involves practices specific to a delimited sphere of action. In the British approach, a salaried worker is assimilated to an external supplier who delivers products and remains within a relationship tied to the provision of services without engaging his or her person. By contrast, in the German approach, the salaried worked is viewed as fully engaging his or her person in the company, while also being associated with the company’s overall functioning. Another level of culture involves societal life more broadly. This second level comes to light when exploring the conceptions of freedom inherited from the Enlightenment that are specific to Britain, on the one hand, and Germany, on the other. Moreover, in both countries, these conceptions of freedom were themselves inherited from the medieval conception of the free man.

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