Call for Papers for a Special Issue on the New Boundaries of the Employment Relationship

Guest editors:

Yanick Noiseux, Département de sociologie, Université de Montréal

Christian Papinot, Département de sociologie, Université de Poitiers

Guylaine Vallée, École des relations industrielles, Université de Montréal

Increasingly, contemporary work is no longer performed within the context of the traditional employment relationship between an employee and an employer but rather within new organizational configurations. These might entail the use of subcontracting, temporary work (obtained through an employment agency) or independent work, thus transforming the social relations of work and employment. These modes of employment are all the result of outsourcing and they link various categories of workers to client-
firms. While these client-firms lack legal status with regard to these new categories of workers and do not shoulder the responsibilities of an employer, they nevertheless exercise control over the content and conditions of their work.

These organizational configurations have changed the “traditional” employment relationship. This latter was consolidated during the second half of the 20th century and was characterized by an exchange between accepting a subordination defined and circumscribed beforehand and the assurance of a social safety net based on the mechanisms of collective solidarity (whether social insurance or work and employment protection rules). In essence, the authority which controlled the work also assumed the economic risk and the responsibility for protection (Supiot, 2004, p. 70). However, in these new configurations, workers, whether salaried or independent, are often subject to the effects of control, while assuming the risks individually.

The result is a blurring of boundaries, which poses particular challenges both to theorization and to the legal and social mechanisms aimed at ensuring social protection and workers’ representation, and which questions the very nature of collective action:

A blurring of boundaries between salaried work and independent work (Supiot, 1999) and a multiplication of “hybrid” zones of work mobilization (Dupuy and Larré, 1998; Morin, 1999), leading to situations of “controlled autonomy” as proposed by Appay (1993) and further adopted by Morin (2005) to describe the situations “where constraints are based less on the exclusive economic dependence of a subcontractor on his client than by requirements relating to quality, deadlines, training, etc., which can have very direct consequences on working conditions, without the client having to assume any responsibility whatsoever (Morin, 2005, pp. 12-13; trans.).

A blurring of boundaries between remunerated work, performed in the public sphere, and free work, performed in the private sphere —visible, in particular, childcare work or home care provided to vulnerable persons (Taylor, 2004) — and a multiplication of hybrid zones constructed by the processes of invisibilization of work (Krinsky and Simonet, 2012), as evidenced by “crowdsourcing” practices (Bergvall-Kåreborn, 2014), which have for the time being escaped any form of state regulation.

A blurring of boundaries between work time and personal time, resulting from strategies for mobilizing “just-in-time” work based on organizations’ needs and requiring workers to be available beyond their work time. As facilitated by new technologies, does this “work on demand”, which affects all workers, not ensure that their constraints henceforth exceed the temporal framework of working hours and the spatial framework of a workplace?

Lastly, a blurring of boundaries between formal work and informal work (Lesemann, 2015; De la Garza, 2015), which have become more and more tenuous as the traditional focus of analysis moves away from Western countries to also consider experience in the Latin-American, African and Asian continents. Where does informality begin and where does it stop, as for example when one worker cannot be declared while accomplishing the same tasks as another worker whose status is regularized or, again, where yet another worker is officially an employee of the firm only for part of his work time during a week?

This issue of RI/IR will explore these “new” boundaries of the employment relationship. In response to criticisms levelled at the research streams which emphasize exclusively non-standard jobs, thus overlooking the fact that the transformations of work “destabilize stable workers” (Castel, 2009) or increase the precariousness and risk of standard jobs (Vosko, 2007), it will examine the characteristics associated with the various types and configurations in the employment relationship, as well as the effects of the coexistence of workers with different types of status and/or employers or clients in real work situations.

Three perspectives will be prioritized for this special issue:

1) How to conceptualize the boundaries of the employment relationship: which theoretical approaches, which analytical dimensions?

2) How to analyze the institutional innovations aimed at protecting workers who are outside the traditional wage relationship (in particular to ensure their collective representation, but also, in North America, their social protection)? This involves broadening the definition of employee, modifying the criteria defining this status or classifying certain categories of hybrid workers as wage earners; special regimes aimed at legally independent workers; intermediary status between wage-earning and self-employment; mechanisms for extending the negotiated conditions; procedures aiming at integrating subcontractors’ employees into the definition of the work community, collective bargaining at network level (subcontracting firms, partner firms). What are the progress and limitations of these institutional innovations? What types of actors participate therein? What progress has been made compared to what was obtained in bargaining under more comprehensive regimes?

3) To what extent can the new boundaries of the employment relationship shape the new forms of resistance and collective action? Is it possible to move beyond the view that “consists in presenting changes in the morphology of wage-earners [and employment relations] as a sufficient explanation for limiting unionization” (Fribourg, 2003; trans.)? In other words, can this “precariat” (Standing, 2011) working in the gaps of employment relations instituted in the “wage society” become an agent of change? Conversely, will this blurring of boundaries extend beyond the context of work and compromise the very notion of citizenship (Breman, 2012)?


-for receiving papers and the decision to submit them to the peer review process: March 15, 2016.

-responding to authors after the review process: September 1, 2016.

-the production of a revised version: February 1, 2017.

-the publication of the special issue: September 1, 2017.

RI/IR’s selection criteria:

The criteria traditionally used by RI/IR are:

-originality of the research problem;

-consideration of elements in recent literature (and in what way the paper contributes to the advancement of knowledge);

-an explicit theoretical or analytical framework;

-a clearly explained methodology (of data collection and analysis);

-original findings presented, analyzed and discussed.

The length of the full manuscript (including the text, tables and figures, notes and references) should be between 7000 – 8000 words.

For more details, in particular on the bibliographical standards, please consult the Website:

Each issue of RI/IR publishes half of its papers in English and the other half in French. The manuscript should include an abstract of 125 words in the same language as that of the manuscript and a summary (approximately 300 words) in both languages.

Please send the manuscript to [email protected]

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