Work and Employment
At the end of the 1980s, a confident reviewer might have surveyed the record of Australian sociological research on work and employment and concluded that its cumulative achievements were considerable and that the field had a promising future. Indeed, the range of significant monographic studies of various aspects of work displayed impressive theoretical concerns and advances, alongside a very solid empirical base. Claire Williams (1981) had turned a study of work in a Queensland coalmine into a path-breaking treatise on the complexities of gender and class dynamics in the interface between work, family life and community. Roy Kriegler (1980) worked in a Whyalla shipyard and laid bare the myriad oppressions and indignities that went to make up class authority in an Australian workplace. Evan Willis (1983) used a quasiMarxist framework to analyse the dominance of the medical profession in the Australian health system, emphasising particularly the role of state regulation. Other works have included Bob Connell's Teacher's Work (1985), which examined public and private schools, exploring teaching as profession, craft, and labour process, and placing it in the school environment with relationships to children and families. Williams (1988) made another major contribution, showing the complexities of the work and class situations of employees who were 'in between' – technicians, flight attendants and bank workers. Ann Game and Rosemary Pringle's highly influential Gender at Work (1983) was followed by Pringle's powerful demonstration of the deep implication of sexuality in the operation of day-to-day workplace patriarchy (Pringle 1988). Jock Collins (1988) and Constance Lever-Tracy and Mike Quinlan (1988) developed competing, but powerful accounts of the postwar wave of migration to Australia, the patterns of ethnic segmentation that resulted and the forces that generated it.
Into the early 1990s, attempts to synthesise knowledge began to appear (Probert 1989; Williams with Thorpe 1992), and one would have guessed that researchers were ready to consolidate the advances of the 1980s and move on to systematically develop the field. However, recent commentaries suggest that the 1990s appear more as a period of 'fragmentation', even 'dissipation' in Australian sociology of work (Campbell 2002; Harding and Sappey 2002). One reason for this impression is undoubtedly that a tide of workplace and labour-market change overtook the settled patterns of earlier decades, and researchers focused their attention on these changes. Indeed, new attention to such