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Flexible rigidities: a model for social Europe?

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Only connect.... The contribution of social scientists is rarely to discover novel facts; it is more often to show what can plausibly be interpreted as patterns of causal association between what is already familiar. We attempt to discern the ways in which the elements in the jigsaw fit together; and not infrequently we must first show how conventional images of the ensemble are misleading before offering new and perhaps surprising alternatives. The essence of social analysis is the search for relationships. In the world of action too, those who can make the strategic connections which are not normally self-evident are best placed to shape their – and our – futures. In this presentation I will attempt to link four concepts, which are probably well known to most of us but are not commonly treated in the same discourse: moral economy, risk society, multi-level governance and flexible rigidities. I see it important to make these connections, because flexibility has become the Leitmotiv of contemporary European industrial relations policy. Dismantling long-established regulatory standards is almost universally presented as an unavoidable response to the imperatives of competitiveness. By connecting my four very disparate themes we may perhaps be better placed to evaluate the nature and the limits both of the challenges and of the responses.

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