Work, Employment and Society Conference 2021

  • Toma Pustelnikovaite (Speaker)
  • Richards, J. (Speaker)
  • Vaughan Ellis (Speaker)
  • Siddartha Saxena (Speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


The global COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly altered how and where people work, as well as putting enormous pressure on a wide range of essential and key workers. At the same time around a million people will have lost their jobs in 2020 while many more faced reductions in hours and earnings.

The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on some groups, with higher numbers of deaths among black and minority ethnic (BME) groups, in part due to their predominance in high-risk sectors. Furthermore BME and young workers are overrepresented in the sectors worst hit by job loss. The widespread shift to homeworking has transformed work routines, with some possible benefits, but it has also placed additional burdens on women juggling childcare and work, and the longer-term effects of solitary working are not yet known. It is in the context of this transformed world of work that the Work, Employment and Society conference 2021 (WES 2021) will take place online (postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic). These dramatic changes in the location and dynamics of work have fragmented the fabric of people’s lives, impacting on health, relationships and communities; for many, destroying the self-efficacy and social connections that extend dignity and a sense of citizenship.

WES 2021 will bring together work and employment researchers from a range of different historical, geographical, cultural, methodological, sectoral and disciplinary perspectives. It will be an opportunity to debate and contest all matters of work, related to the theme of connectedness, activism and dignity.

For many, connectedness provides community or shared identity; a sense of belonging, which shapes the culture and operation of workplaces and working lives. Fragmentation affects the relationships that form at work, and the forms of work that are possible and sustainable. In addition, in response to the pandemic, working at home and virtually have become more wide-spread, affecting the nature of working and the operation of workplaces. Scholars working on the dynamics of work have stressed the surge in peripheralisation and precariousness of work, resulting in marginalisation and polarisation. WES 2021 will consider how these developments affect a feeling of connectedness; in different sectors and roles, and for all workers.

In terms of activism, while many workers are facing increasing insecurity and uncertainty, they are also challenging their employers to ‘do the right thing’, and workers are mobilising in different ways to voice concern about the stance of employers on a range of issues. Workers continue to demand improvements in worker status, pay and benefits. They also demand the adoption of more ethical business practices that address issues such as diversity, social justice, environmentalism, and climate change. Activism in these areas recognises the importance of providing more certain futures, particularly for those who are marginalised and polarised. Workers are also seeking solidarity in response to technological-enabled changes to work organisation and the employment relationship. This trend has been further increased by the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies of flexible work, gig work, working across digital platforms, and working-at-home are thriving. Multi-tasking and multi-jobbing now coincide routinely. At the same time, algorithms ‘manage’, and gamification makes a ‘game’ of work. Overall, we see how non-standard forms of work are growing, competition for jobs has intensified, and employment is increasingly individualised and/or isolating. In this context, how are responses informed by evidence about technological, social and political change? How are workers responding to the challenges?

In recent years, we have witnessed different forms of collective action, such as employee walkouts, mass protests and other multi-stakeholder initiatives of solidarity. Do instances of solidarity and resistance by workers in the gig economy, creative industries, service sector and elsewhere represent new forms of organising that challenge the deregulation and fragmentation of work? Since the pandemic activism has had to adapt in line with restrictions and social distancing, and new forms of virtual or digital activism are emerging. WES 2021 invites discussion about the issues of worker activism in a precarious era, how these issues are changing, and the strategies of activism being adopted and whether they are effective.

The political framing of workplace regulation is undergoing change at all levels, including via international trading arrangements, and there are already government threats to weaken workplace protections following the UK’s departure from the European Union. At the grassroots level, there have been attempts to involve the wider community and local stakeholders in improving working lives. The push for a minimum wage, living wage and decent work all feed into this. These campaigns have global and local implications. There is much more to be done, and to learn, about how to improve the dignity of work for all, taking account of persistent inequalities of class, race, gender and multiple other intersecting dimensions. WES 2021 invites discussion about the dignity of people at work; and how work and employment affects people’s lives, health, relationships and sense of citizenship.

New for WES 2021, we also invite ‘On the Front Line’ presentations. The aim is to hear the ‘voice of the worker’ and their experiences of work and employment. This might involve workers as co-authors or co-presenters, or workers might be embodied within the presentation; through audio, photograph, film or other creative means.

We also welcome suggestions for Special Sessions or events on any topic that matters for work and the lives of workers. The topic should relate to the Aims and Scope of the journal Work, Employment and Society and the conference’s theme: this might involve staging a debate on a controversial topic, challenging orthodoxy or highlighting a misunderstood concept or practice.
Period25 Aug 202127 Aug 2021
Event typeConference
LocationUnited KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • WES
  • Sociology of work
  • Leaveism