The place of autonomy in the world of work.

Behind the self-employment we find ourselves, so to speak, with the possibilities and limitations of autonomy as a space in the world of contemporary labour in Chile (but not only in our country). Three reflections are necessary to understand that space:

The first is that autonomy, which is crucial for its own account, is not alien to the workers. Subramanian (2009) has analyzed this in the context of industrial work in India, where the autonomy is constructed in opposition to, if you will, to the wishes of management; Durand (2004) has shown, using the French case, as the search for autonomy is re-used for the logical management as a way to engage the worker to production practices are more intensive and strained; Wasser (2015) looks at how a fashion brand brazilian uses and promotes the identity of their workers as a way of building the brand and the pressures that this exerts on them; Kalleberg (2013) divides the quality of work on extrinsic elements, the case of the prototypical being the income, and intrinsic elements, the elements of quality that generates the do the job; and these last are discussed centrally from the dimension of control of one’s own work.

Now, the way in which autonomy plays and operates between wage workers is not necessarily the same as that between own-account workers. The review of the literature shows that in several occasions what is said of the autonomy in the situation, employees can not give an account of what could be what happens among their own. Thus, Dubet (2009) has raised the autonomy as one of the principles of justice, but your analysis associated to the pursuit of self-expression and self-development at work. But it is not clear that the search for autonomy among its own account corresponds to these dimensions. To think of autonomy in terms of management of self (how does Ramos Zincke, 2012: 188-189), and in that sense ligarla to the new forms of organizational management, nor is it clear that account of the logic of autonomy, at least as posed between independent. There is a certain ‘ownership’ of the idea of autonomy on the part of the logic of entrepreneurship and, more generally, by the ideas of a post-modern society of individuals De la Garza Toledo (2011), but that is what we need to discuss. In both cases, disappears the theme of the quest to stop being controlled (which does not necessarily require self-expression, or that it is not necessarily of the management of one’s self, rather it may be internalization of that control, à la Elias).

The second thing is that autonomy is not simply something given to these workers, and something that works out positively for you automatically. It is something that requires work and effort: The autonomy has its own difficulties. Does not solve all the problems of the realization of the autonomy delivering improvements seen from the situation of the wage-earner, without taking charge of the generation of a space for autonomy. As an example of the practical difficulties of autonomy can be observed, for example, that she can be ‘bought’ in one aspect at the expense of ‘dependency’ on others. So, for example, thinking in his own account of scarce resources-the recovering of materials for paper companies in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, Villanova (2012) shows a relationship work the piece very dependent with these companies, in spite of the autonomy in the work operation. Ruiz and Boccardo (2014: 126-129) for the chilean case emphasize as many own-account of the strata means, due to the productive chains have few customers and low ability to move between them. The ‘excessiveness of the proof of work’ (Araujo and Martuccelli 2012, Araujo, 2014) is something that, in principle, applies significantly also to these workers. Autonomy is not something simply ‘positive’, represents a logical action that implies possibilities, difficulties, senses, forms of assessment and thinking specific.

The fact that we are talking about a practice of autonomy and not just an aspiration allows us to observe the possible difference with salaried employees: The salaried worker may have (or not) a desire for autonomy, and may achieve (or not) spaces for it within their working practice; but in the case of the own account worker the problem of the autonomy crosses the entire logic of work. Consider the practice of autonomy in wage work are require other forms of organization, see Vieta (2010) for a discussion of self-management ’companies recovered by their workers’ in Argentina. And in the same way that between own-account, the autonomy appears as a complex space difficult to build.

It might be better to raise the problems of these workers as problems for the maintenance of the autonomy, and even think the insecurity from this perspective: what do I need to be able to keep as their own? The salary and the contractual relationship is a way to solve the uncertainty, but not necessarily the only one. And when we remember the payables of the contractual relationship, nor necessarily the best. More even, thought of it that way, we can retrieve all the elements and social foundations needed to enable an effective deployment of that autonomy, and not falling into a mere individualization of risks (Castel 2004, Caponi 2007), or in a neglect of systemic risks (Beck 2013). If the work on their own is not equivalent to the wage relationship, the social forms to cope with their insecurity are not necessarily those that were thought to be out of that relationship.

The third is that autonomy is, in particular, from the point of view of modern societies, something inherently positive. With all their problems, when you look at something as self-contained it is to praise. Do not let be symptomatic that the words vernaculares to refer to this situation in Chile are not neutral (as it is their own account) or observations from another paradigm (such as the self-employed that looks at it from the perspective of salary), but positive: Independent is something that, in any other context, be seen positively, and no one needs to explain because it seeks its independence. At the same time, talk to the employee as a ‘dependent’ is a negative way of naming it. If the names something say of perceptions, this already indicates a certain valuation basic of the respective situations. To emphasize the independence (as in other contexts, referring to them as self-employed workers) is, among all that you can to highlight, to show that what matters is something valued, and that it consists of -like literally what the word says not to depend on another, to be oneself who decides on yes.

This baseline assessment of the situation, as such, is relevant. To be able to understand it is necessary to locate these practices and meanings in a historical process longer: In the historical account normal, modern capitalism represents an expansion of wage employment, against which the self-employment (either such as artisans, such as the petty bourgeoisie or other sector) diminishes in importance. Which then, becomes of interest, then, to observe how they located the own-account work, and the complex practice of autonomy, in that production of the modern society.


Araujo, K. (2014). The excessiveness and his subjects: in the case of Chile. In A. Streher and L. Godoy (Eds.), Transformations of Work, Subjectivity and Identities (p. 277-298). Santiago: RIL.

Araujo, K., Martuccelli, D. (2012). A Number Of Common Challenges. Santiago: LOM

Beck, U. (2013). Why ’class’ is too soft a category to capture the explosiveness of social inequality at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The British Journal of Sociology, 64(1), 63-74.

Caponi, S. (2007). Old and new risks. Cadernos de Saúde Publica, 23(1), 7-15.

Castel, R. (2004). The social Insecurity. What is to be protected? Buenos Aires: Manantial.

De la Garza Toledo, E. (2011). Work is not classic, organization and collective action. Mexico city: Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa.

Dubet, F. (2009). Injustice at Work. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Durand, J.-P. (2004). La chaîne invisible. Paris: Seuil.

Kalleberg, A. L. (2013). Good Jobs and Bad Jobs. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Ramos Zincke, C. (2012). The assembly of social science and society. Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado.

Ruiz, C., and Boccardo, G. (2014). The Chilean under Neoliberalism. Santiago: Node XXI.

Subramanian, D. (2009). Work and autonomy in the assembly of printed circuit boards: An ethnographic account. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 43(2), 183-216.

Vieta, M. (2010). The Social Innovations of Autogestion in Argentina’s Worker Recuperated Enterprises. Labor Studies Journal, 35(3), 295-321.

Villanova, N. (2012). What are excluded or included? Recoverers of recyclable materials in Latin america. Mexican journal of Sociology, 74(2), 245-274.

Wasser, N. (2015). What emerging or equal entrepreneurs of the difference? The case of a brazilian brand of fashion. In M. Castillo Gallardo and C. Maldonado Graus (Eds.), Inequalities. Tolerance, legitimacy and conflict in societies latioamericanas (p. 451-470). Santiago: RIL.

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