Cross-National Labor Markets in East Asia?

Professor Karen Shire, University of Duisberg-Essen

04.Nov.2009 17.00 - 18.30
HRI Conference Room, HRI Institute, Gell Street, University of Sheffield - Sheffield


Social scientific research on transnationalism has its roots in the study of the inter-state system in  international relations and transnational corporations in the field of international business.  Transnationalism research is relatively recent in sociology, and focused almost exclusively on  transmigration.  The aim of the talk is to extend the sociological transnationalism approach from studying mobility of people to the mobility of jobs and work tasks.  The talk will begin with debates between globalization and transnationalization research in sociology, with the aim of developing a perspective on sociological transnationalism, which can inform empirical research on labor market change.  States, firms and technology are all dimensions which need to be taken into consideration in the transnational social formation of labor markets. These dimensions are often ignored by the “bottom-up” approach of sociological transnationalism, and I draw on recent economic sociological theories of “market making,” drawing on the field concept of Bourdieu,  to develop a social institutional approach to the transnationalisation of labor markets. With this conceptual framework, I then consider dimensions of the transnationalization of labor markets in East Asia, beginning with three practices of Japanese firms from the mid-1980s to the present: the rotation of managerial personnel to foreign subsidiaries, the location of entire modules of supply-chains abroad, and the recent development of the temporary dispatching industry.  The talk ends with a set of theses about cross-border labor markets in East Asia and a research idea.


Karen SHIRE ( is Professor of Comparative Sociology and Japanese Society in the Institutes of Sociology and East Asian Studies and Speaker of the DFG Research Training Group 1613 Risk and East Asia at the University Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Her research is about changes in employment regulations and employment practices in Europe and East Asia and comparisons of the impact of employment changes on social inequalities. Recent research covers the changing organization of work in service industries, project work organisations, new technologies and customer orientations, the impact of technology and organizational change on employment practices, work experiences and service work quality. Recent publications include Temporary Work in Coordinated Market Economies,  Industrial and Labor Relations Review 2009, Collective Bargaining and Temporary Employment Contracts, European Journal of Industrial Relations, Gender Dimensions of the Aging Workforce in Japan in Challenges of Demographic Change in Japan, Brill Press 2008,  Gender and the Conceptualization of the Knowledge Economy in Comparison, in Gendering the New Economy, Palgrave Press, 2007, and Employment Deregulation and the Expanding Market for Temporary Labour in Japan (with J. Imai) in The Changing Structure of Labor in Japan – Japanese Human Resource Management between Continuity and Innovation, 2006, Palgrave Press.