The Paradoxes of Decent Work in Context: A Cultural Political Economy Perspective
Scientific discourses of decent work can be roughly grouped into two main lines of interpretation. The first, optimistic line sees the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) decent work agenda as indicative of counter-hegemonic forces successfully injecting post-neo-liberal norms into global labour regulation. Specifically, feminist scholars have welcomed the emergence of decent work, because of its explicit concern with non-standard work, informal labour and care work. The second, more pessimistic line is critical of the decent work agenda, seeing it as compatible with or even reinforcing neo-liberal hegemony, especially because of its embrace of soft labour regulation and corporate social responsibility. This article aims to analyse the paradoxes of decent work by putting this discourse in its historical and theoretical context. The article first draws on the framework of Cultural Political Economy (CPE) to identify competing ‘economic imaginaries’ of decent work. Two prominent interpretations will be juxtaposed to outline a ‘feminist’ and a ‘business case’ decent work imaginary. Second, the article interrogates two different ILO initiatives, each of which is underpinned by one of these decent work imaginaries, in terms of the ways they may challenge or reinforce neo-liberal hegemony – the Domestic Workers Convention and the Better Work Programme.
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