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Foreword Eliot Freidson The division of labor represents two of the most fundamental characteristics that mark human life off from that of other animals—the capacity to create tools that aid in the performance of specialized tasks, and the capacity to cooperate with others in the performance of complementary tasks that yield a joint product. It exists in some form in every human society, but wherever society is complex and reasonably large it is composed in large degree of formally defined, stable occupations in which workers specialize in various tasks that produce the goods and services on which human life depends. The division of labor is thus the generic basis for differentiation in human life. While it is possible to imagine a society undivided by class inequality, we cannot imagine a viable society undivided by specialization. And if we wish to imagine a society with a rich material and cultural standard of living, we could not imagine one without a fairly stable structure of differentiation by specialization. As fundamental as is the division of labor in the human scheme of things, it has not been the focus for much thought and study. Of the classic writers, Durkheim provides us with the idea that the number of different specializations in a division of labor can be explored as a function of size and density xi xii FOREWORD of population, but that idea does not allow us to understand why the particular specializations arise in the first place and why they assume the form they do. Adam Smith considered its growth to be a critical prerequisite for increased productivity and "universal opulence," but did not address itdirectly as a topic for analysis. His comments on "combinations" and mercantilism were, as usual, shrewd, and his emphasis on the role of self-interest and competition in the offering and consumption of goods and services in the free market provides us with one set of possible tools by which the development and maintenance of a particular division of labor can be traced. But his emphasis on an ideal free market prevented him from developing concepts capable of dealing with the way real markets are actually constituted and operated. And while Karl Marx did suggest a rudimentary typology of various ways in which divisions of labor may be organized, his primary focus was on the detailed division of labor of the industrial enterprises of his time, the concept of division of labor remaining vague and contradictory in his work. Obsessed with capital and its role in creating the basic order of industrial society, Marx provided some understanding of why the detailed division of labor developed in factories but little or no understanding of how or why the particular social division of labor of a given time and place and even any particular detailed division of labor in a given factory develops, maintains itself, and changes. Classic theorists thus give us only modest help. In order to understand the division of labor better, it seems clear that some basic facts must be taken into account. Above all, it is essential to recognize that divisions of labor are socially organized. One cannot merely add up all specialized occupations or jobs into a sum and declare that to be the division of labor. After all, insofar as they are specialized, occupations are interdependent and thus must have socially organized relations with one another. In one way or another specialized tasks must be coordinated for some common outcome. A number of jobs in a given enterprise, then, must be part of a coordinating social organization. That coordinating social organization , however, is clearly a historic variable and not a universal constant: just as there is more than one way to skin FOREWORD a cat, so there is more than one way to organize a division of labor. Similarly, the elements constituting the division of labor— the particular assortment of individual tasks that gets collected into a job or work role—may not be thought to be constants. While there are certainly spatial, temporal, and material limits to the number and varietyof tasks that possibly can be performed by an individual worker, and while there are certainly other purely mechanical or technological constraints , there is nonetheless a broad area of indeterminacy which allows a number of possible combinations of various tasks to be crystallized into the social role bundles we call jobs, occupations, trades, or specialties. The question is, what is the process by which those bundles are made up and by...


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