Accepted Paper:

From employed to 'employable': An ethnographic case study of 'conceptual inflation' in HR policies and practices  


Pernille Hohnen (Aalborg University)

Paper short abstract:

Employability, especially for low skilled workers, is increasingly becoming a central issue both in the European political debate on globalization and labour market demands and within recent studies of work life. The paper discusses meanings of employment policies in light of, existing theories of changing work identity, individualization and flexible management.

Paper long abstract:

The present paper examines prevailing new demands on 'employability' in a global labour market by analyzing different understandings of 'competency development', recruitment policies and employment practices in a Danish industrial network. Based on empirical analysis, the paper illuminates the concrete processes through which dominant political discourses on 'employability' are contextualized and practiced at the workplace. The paper focuses on changing connotations of 'employability' and on 'conceptual inflation' (Shore and Wright 2000) in policies and practices of competency development as the 'concept' 'moves' from EU discourse to becoming a specific HR policy within a specific Danish industrial workplace. Furthermore, the paper highlights a series of discrepancies between HR discourse and practice, reproducing as well as creating new diversities at the workplace. In doing so, existing (Foucault-inspired) theories on changing work identity and loss of personal integrity associated with modern forms of work are critically reviewed. The analysis of low skilled workers' responses to HR policies and their reflections regarding their future employability suggests a lack of mutuality with management ideas as well as a lack of commensurability with prevailing theory.

Panel W057
Flexible capitalism: new forms of mutuality and diversity at work?