CfP: Vulnerabilities in the workplace. Crossed Perspectives of Social Sciences in Europe

Call for papers, deadline 9 September 2020

France - Bordeaux

2021 March 18 & 19

Organized by the Centre Emile Durkheim (UMR 5116) and the CEREP (EA 4692)

See attachment for French version and more information


Since the turn of the 2000s, European labour and employment policies, which have been progressively monitored at the national level, have advocated a twofold movement towards making career paths more flexible and secure (Supiot, 1999; Caillaud & Zimmermann, 2011). Faced with technological changes, transformations in the organization of productive systems and some of their effects (mass unemployment, relocation, automation, uberization, etc.), we would all have become "vulnerable" at work (Veil, 2012; Lhuilier et al., 2013; Greenan & Seghir, 2017).

In the first sense, this notion refers to the potentiality of someone or something to be degraded (Soulet, 2005). This notion has been critically discussed (Thomas, 2010; Soulet, 2014; Ravon, 2014). It has been widely invested in the medico-social sector before being generalised today. Indeed, the notion of "vulnerability" has been described as a "new category of public action" (Brodiez-Dolino, 2015). In this context, it is possible to question its application to the worlds of work and employment, and its heuristic significance for social science research. Three scales of analysis seem to be discernible in the literature: 

First, we have the vulnerability at work with approaches that deal with the variety of forms and unequal distribution of the deleterious effects of work on the health of individuals (quality of life and safety at work, states of exhaustion, suicides, etc.). We talk about "wear and tear at work" (Cottereau, 1983; Hatzfeld, 2006), "suffering at work" (Loriol, 2012), or "psychosocial risks" (Gollac & Bodier, 2011). Moreover, it is the physical and psychological "sustainability" of work on the scale of a working life that appears central (Thery, 2006; Ardenti et al., 2010). This also leads us to question the modes of organization and management of working groups and their own interactions. Nevertheless, in this framework, the term vulnerability seems to have been reappropriated within a productivist rhetoric that aims to make individuals "responsible" for their own situation. This has also been observed regarding other notions such as "competence" (Séhili, 2003) or "outsourcing" (Dufournet et al., 2019).

Secondly, we can mention the vulnerability of employment: traditionally considered around the risk of losing one's job, as opposed to employability, which refers to the chances of finding a new job (Ledrut, 1966). This vision/approach considers the unequal distribution of access to employment and to resources or social protections that it would allow to collect. However, these protective factors associated with employment, even in its canonical form (i.e., full-time permanent employment contracts), would gradually be eroded in contemporary wage societies (Castel, 2009). In addition to this, we can nowadays add to this: wage crumbling requiring recourse to specific "portage" institutions (Darbus, 2013, Moriceau et al., 2015); constrained entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship out of necessity (Couteret, 2010; Tessier Dargent, 2015) in which access to independence is achieved because the individual cannot remain in the sphere of salaried employment; or the development of "micro-work" linked to the digital economy (e.g. tagging images or recognizing faces or objects on photos, writing short comments, creating musical playlists, or any piecework operation) (Casilli et al., 2019; Le Ludec et al., 2019; Naulin & Jourdain, 2019). Thus, the vulnerability of employment would grow as "nomadic careers" develop between different forms of employment (Arthur & Rousseau, 1996). Thus, the vulnerability of employment would increase as "nomadic careers" develop between different forms of employment (Arthur & Rousseau, 1996).

Thirdly, it is important to discuss the professional vulnerability, which is understood as all the threats influencing the organization and functioning of an occupational group as a whole (Champy, 2011, pp. 210-217). This refers to the processes of recognition of qualifications (Naville, 1956) and more broadly to the process of professionalisation (Demazière et al., 2012). However, this dynamic may be subject to tension that challenges it, both within the professional group and at the level of society as a whole. Indeed, one can think in particular of the decline of the public confidence in a category of professionals and their actions (Freidson, 2001). One can think of external pressures aiming to increase the "economic efficiency" of their actions, for example in the case of public servants (Bezes & Demazière, 2011; Alber, 2013). There is also competition between professional segments or between professional groups found in the health sector (Bénamouzig, 2010), the legal sector (Moysan-Louazel, 2011) or the cultural sector (Hénaut, 2011). Finally, there are the transformations of the tertiary sector professions within the framework of digital societies (Metling, 2015); etc. In these configurations, the professional hierarchies, the boundaries, the mandate but also the very meaning of the activity may all be at stake.

These three levels are not watertight, they may intersect or cumulate one another. To this, we must add the effect of individual characteristics and the weight of conjunctures. Being in some social categories rather than in others seems to make people more "vulnerable", such as women, migrants, the elderly, the low-skilled, etc., who are more "vulnerable" than others. Similarly, these vulnerabilities are largely dependent on the history and normative apparatus structuring national employment and work organisation systems (Bazillier et al., 2014; Greenan & Seghir, 2017). These contribute to redefining relationships in and at work. Finally, it is necessary to get rid of the substantive illusion that the use of the concept of "vulnerability" can give. Following the example of authors who have preferred the notions of disaffiliation (Castel, 1994) or disqualification (Paugam, 1994) to those of poverty, precariousness, etc., it is possible, and no doubt preferable, to focus more on "vulnerabilization" than on "vulnerability». Indeed, it seems more instructive not only to note the presence of people who are "vulnerable" or affected by a particular "vulnerability" but also to look at the way this is constructed, structured, arranged, and possibly to observe possible reversibility (Soulet, 2014). Also, if we decide to integrate a temporal perspective, we can think of possible propagation effects between forms of vulnerability, since occupational vulnerability can lead to vulnerability in employment and/or in the workplace, etc. (Soulet, 2014).

Faced with such complexity, the aim of this international conference will be to question once more/reconsider these major lines of thought on a European scale and to develop new issues. This can be done through the prism of a crossroads of social sciences views in their diversity (law, economics, history, political science, sociology, etc.). In addition, beyond an analysis of the determinants of vulnerability and the diversity of its forms, the expected contributions could deal with actions and mechanisms to remedy or prevent this spectrum of vulnerabilities at work, and question the way in which "vulnerability" is a category produced by work.

Orgnaisation committee

  • JULHE Samuel, MCF, Université de Reims Champagne Ardenne, CEREP EA 4692
  • JURION Sylvie, MCF associée, Université de Reims Champagne Ardenne, CEREP EA 4692 
  • MAINGUY Glenn, Docteur, Université de Bordeaux, CED UMR 5116 
  • MEZIANI Yamina, Docteur, Université de Bordeaux, CED UMR 5116
  • SEHILI Djaouidah, PU, Université de Reims Champagne Ardenne, CEREP EA 4692 THIVET Delphine, MCF, Université de Bordeaux, CED UMR 5116

Scientific Committee 

  • BERTHET Thierry, Directeur de recherche CNRS, Université Aix-Marseille BOTHFELD Silke, Professor, Hochschule Bremen CACOUAULT-BITAUD Marlaine, Professeure, Université de Poitiers CORNILLEAU Gérard, Conseiller scientifique à l’OFCE DAVIES Anne, Professor, University of Oxford 
  • DEMAZIÈRE Didier, Directeur de recherche CNRS, Sciences Po - Paris DUJARIER Marie-Anne, Professeure, CNAM
  • JARRETT Kylie, Professor, Maynooth University KOFMAN Eleonore Professor, Middlesex Univeristy LE GOFF Jacques, Professeur, Université de Brest
  • LEROUGE Loïc, Directeur de recherche CNRS, Université de Bordeaux MECHI Lorenzo Professore Associato, Università degli studi di Padova PIGENET Michel, Professeur, Université Paris 1
  • RAINHORN Judith, Professeure, Université Paris 1 RIEUCAU Géraldine, Maître de conférences, CEET
  • VENDRAMIN Patricia, Professeure, Université Catholique de Louvain ZIMMERMANN Susan, Professor, Central European University


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