Man, Work, and Society: A Reader in the Sociology of Occupations

By Sigmund Nosow; William H. Form | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
ECONOMIC, INDUSTRIAL, AND OCCUPATIONAL SYSTEMS

Although occupations in their modern form are manifestations of economic phenomena, work, whether highly specialized or nonspecialized, has been deeply embedded historically in the general social structure. Among many contemporary peoples in technologically underdeveloped economies, work is so deeply woven into the fabric of family life and life in the wider community that, except for analytical purposes, it is difficult to separate it out as a discrete social pattern. In such situations it is unrealistic to speak of work as the performance of occupational roles. What then is the basic difference between work and occupations?

Degree of specialization of economic activity does not offer a suitable criterion for the differentiation between occupation and work. The key to the difference is the degree to which specialized economic activity is functionally removed from other institutional arrangements. Ideally, the occupational role is performed independently of other role demands within the community. If this criterion of occupation is accepted, we would have to agree with Salz that occupations are relatively recent phenomena that have emerged in market economies, for only under market systems do we find economic activity functionally removed from other institutionalized areas of life.

Polanyi has suggested that true markets are found only when the economy is disembedded from the rest of social life1 and Max Weber has described the objective rational conditions necessary for the emergence of commercial and then industrial capitalism.2 But occupations are as much a manifestation of the emergence of market societies as are the use of money, rational bookeeping techniques, and free labor. Occupations thus may be defined as a system of work roles within a market economy.

This does not mean, however, that economic activity is functionally removed from other areas of life. In an ideally rationalized economic

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