CfP: „Flexibility“ and „Agility“: Strategies, Practices, and Ambivalences of a Key Concept since the 1980s
Conference date: 17/18 November 2022
Conference hosted by:
Technical University of Darmstadt, Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam (ZZF), Helmut-Schmidt-University/University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg (HSU), SPP 2267 “The Digitalization of Working Worlds. Conceptualising and Capturing a Systemic Transformation.“
Martina Heßler (TU Darmstadt), Martin Krzywdzinski (HSU), Christopher Neumaier (ZZF)
Please submit your proposed papers by 30 May 2022.
Send a short CV (1 page) and abstract (max. 3,000 characters) to: hiwi-technik [at] pg.tu-darmstadt.de
Travel costs will be reimbursed.
CfP (short Version):
Keynote: Prof. Richard Sennett
Flexibility has emerged as a key concept to explain social change since the 1970s and 1980s. Flexibilization shaped industrial and service relations as well as social relations. Examples of this process include flextime succeeding rigid workday time regulations in offices or “flexible automation” becoming the catchphrase in industrial production as the fixed automation that had shaped industrialization up to the 1970s and 1980s gradually vanished. Private life started to shift as well: new modes of life such as singles and cohabitation appeared to coexist with the traditional nuclear family. The latter represented a strict social institution while the former allowed for constant adjustments based on individual needs – a differentiation that needs to be critically analyzed from a historical perspective. Sociologist Richard Sennett pointed out in his widely received essay “The Corrosion of Character” (Sennett 1998) that flexibility had become a crucial tenet in “postmodern” societies. The title of the book’s German translation, “Der flexible Mensch,” highlighted this argument. The English title, by contrast, alluded to the negative aspects of the shift towards flexibility, which aimed to bend human beings’ actions towards the interest of management, which in turn corroded one’s character. Sociologists and historians such as Michael J. Piore, Charles F. Sabel, and Lutz Raphael further confirmed the ways in which flexibility evolved into a key concept of social change in the late 20th century have already noticed (Piore/ Sabel 1984; Raphael 2019).
Flexibility has not only been analyzed by scholars, but also experienced, practiced in some form, and criticized by management or unions since the 1970s and 1980s. Hence, academics were not the only people exploring the parameters of flexibility. In addition, it seeped from the theoretical into the practical. In both constellations, managers and union representatives identified “flexibility” as their guiding principle. These actors sparked a reorganization of temporal and spatial orders, reframing the concept for working life. Organizations and work methods— but also the life courses of workers and employees— became more flexible. Even social structures, including the traditional nuclear family were not immune to flexibility, giving way to increasing acceptance of alternative lifestyles.
This conference explores the concept of flexibility along with the strategies, processes, practices, and ambivalences of flexibilization. Even though the focus of the conference will be on work environments, we will also consider broader social contexts.
The presentations should address in particular the following intertwined rubrics:
1) To what extent can “flexibility” serve as a key analytical category that provides vital nuanced insight into social change?
2) What processes, strategies, practices, perceptions, and experiences of flexibility need to be assessed historically and empirically?
3) Flexibilization and digitalization have been strong allies in the last third of the 20th century: What are the ways in which digitalization facilitated flexibilization or how were they concurrently constructed?
4) How do we integrate the ambivalences, resistances, and criticism of the concept of flexibilization against the backdrop of its alleged success story?
You will find detailed information in the pdf:
CfP: Practices, and Ambivalences of a Key Concept since the 1980s