The International Political Economy of Work and Employability by Phoebe V. Moore

Moore, P. V. (2010) The International Political Economy of Work and Employability, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 208.

PDF Versions: Review by Ian Bruff, Review by John Smith, Review by Owen Worth, Author’s Reply by Phoebe V. Moore.

Review by Ian Bruff[1]

There is much to admire in Moore’s book. It is an ambitious discussion that covers a range of literatures (IPE, Gramscian studies, labour process theories, autonomism, comparative political economy) in order to remind us of the centrality of work to the ongoing reproduction of capitalism. This is underpinned by an emphasis on the production of subjectivity and selfhood through work, which seeks to outflank both what Moore sees as objectivist biases within IPE plus the excessive focus on discourses within poststructuralism. Moreover, and this is what I find most interesting, she shows how different ‘types’ of capitalism (UK, South Korea, Singapore), with clearly distinctive histories and capitalist trajectories, seem to moving in step with each other when it comes to employability. This attempted inculcation among their populations of the ideal type of a ‘new worker’, who is now employable rather than necessary employed (p. 3), frequently takes place not through ‘the market’ but via the mobilisation of institutional power – within the firm and governing institutions – in novel ways. Finally, she emphasises, in a commendably lengthy final chapter, how these new forms of capitalism bring with them new potentialities for resistance and therefore a post-capitalist world.

For me, the most powerful aspects of the book relate to skills revolutions in the ‘East’, for it is easy – and misguided – to, from a UK perspective, assume that ‘manual’ jobs are now in regions containing emerging and/or middle-income capitalisms, resulting in the consolidation of frequently precarious, insecure, ‘flexible’ political economies in the most developed part of the world. However, she shows that such processes have been growing in importance for South Korea and Singapore as well, with the crisis of the late 1990s serving as the catalyst for a decisive shift towards employability. Highly striking here was the rhetoric of competences oriented around so-called ‘international’ skills such as knowledge of the English language and the possession of a ‘good’ personality, for this secures more firmly the discourses of necessity which grew in importance after 1997. For example, South Korea’s vulnerability within a global economy meant that the government would help individuals to self-improve via the renewed development of skills and competences (p. 101), rather than shield them from the exigencies of this global economy. Such vocational and educational training (VET) programmes were thus at the heart of the attempted reorientation – by firms and governments – of workers’ subjectivities towards a new form of selfhood which accepted and internalised the ‘need’ for self-improvement in the light of external forces that one could not control (p. 114).

This is all crucial for the development of a more genuinely interdisciplinary and holistic IPE, for IPE seems to have lost sight of the importance of work. As Moore argues in a forthcoming paper, this ‘is surprising not least because political economy was originally a study of labour and work.’[2] As such, we should welcome this argument for the reintegration of seemingly disparate strands of political economy analysis, which in previous decades were clearly connected to each other. However, as in her earlier monograph on South Korea’s transition to capitalism and subsequent trajectory,[3] I find her arguments more convincing when discussing more empirical issues. Therefore, the rest of this contribution to the review symposium will focus on Moore’s theoretical points, especially those related to Gramsci’s concept of passive revolution.

As I have argued elsewhere,[4] if one is to invoke passive revolution as a key conceptual scaffold then one must be clear how this relates to his more well-known discussions of hegemony. This is because, in much of the literature on passive revolution, hegemony has in effect been restricted to instances of active consent by the masses to their continued subordination to leading social groups. Yet I feel that, for Gramsci, hegemony was as much about contained, muted dissent as active, spontaneous consent. One key example is the fact that he almost always placed spontaneous in quotation marks, revealing in the process the importance of how consent is organised. This is because no matter what concessions are made by leading social groups in return for the consent of subordinate groups to lead, ‘there is also no doubt that such sacrifices and such a compromise cannot touch the essential; for though hegemony is ethical-political, it must also be economic’.[5] Therefore, constantly shifting yet constantly unequal social relations are a permanent feature of capitalism, and reluctant acquiescence to such circumstances is at least as likely as genuine consent.

One other notable consequence of the growth of interest in passive revolution has been the downplaying of trasformismo, that is the process by which previously excluded social groups are, in an ongoing, molecular process, increasingly incorporated into existing regimes without altering the foundations of such orders. I suspect that this is partly due to the aforementioned difficulties related to passive revolution and hegemony, for one could recruit trasformismo to either the former – fundamental changes in the organisation of production, be it the transition to capitalism or transformations within capitalism, which are initiated by the state and exclude many social groups from the process – and the latter – organic relationships between leaders and the led based on exchange of concessions between different social groups via a process of neutralising rather than marginalising dissent and resistance. In other words, the required conceptual clarity has yet to be achieved in general, and here Moore reproduces the already-existing limitations in the wider literature.

For example, at one stage in the opening chapter Moore aligns trasformismo with passive revolution, because of how it captures the consolidation of ‘ideologies from contrasting perspectives’ in the aftermath of failed constructions of hegemony (p. 13). This deliberate ambiguity between rule and resistance, however, does not sit easily with the earlier assertion that ideas become hegemonic through trasformismo (p. 10). The lack of clarity can also be observed later in the book: when discussing South Korea, Moore is clear that the changes to technical qualifications and associated VET programmes entailed the exclusion of workers from dialogue about such developments (p. 98). However, at the beginning of the chapter we are told that this was part of a larger hegemonic project (p. 73). The switching between passive revolution – marginalisation – and hegemony – neutralisation – unnecessarily dichotomises what should be viewed as a nuanced and dynamic continuum, with fully-fledged hegemony at one end of the spectrum and comprehensive passive revolution at the other.[6]

While this may seem a small point, it has two significant consequences. Firstly, it points to a broader ambivalence about the Marxist tradition when it comes to subjectivity and self-government, for trasformismo is at times connected to poststructuralist discussions of governmentality and technologies of the self (for example, 35-6). This regression is, for me, unnecessary: there are plenty of examples from within Marxism of precisely these processes, perhaps the most obvious being E.P. Thompson’s discussions of working time in capitalism.[7] I guess Moore would counter that Thompson did not, as with others such as Marx and Braverman, consider the implications of the shift towards post-Fordist societies. Nevertheless, such discussions are already present in Nicos Poulantzas’ later work,[8] and indeed in Gramsci’s famous essay on Americanism and Fordism (in particular his notes on sexual libertinism plus animality).[9] Why is this important? Put simply, Foucault, Rose and others do little more than provide an incomplete account of capitalist societies, on the one hand sanitising and neglecting the horrors inherent to processes of primitive accumulation, and on the other resorting to thick description of institutional/governmental processes rather than exploring how and why certain processes will be both more significant and more enduring than others.[10]

Secondly, Moore is too keen to, when considering resistance, ally herself with autonomists. These perspectives stress the role of the multitude in carving open post-capitalist spaces that exist simultaneously within and outside capitalist social relations. Such ‘commoning’ processes entail (and require) new worker subjectivities that seek to bring capitalism to crisis point in the name of alternative value systems. However, the overlap between these arguments and the anti-statism of poststructuralists (especially on notions of biopower) leads one to conclude that the state is neglected. This is crucial, for the state is perhaps the example in contemporary societies of a ‘universal subjective’ which exudes an aura of natural, autonomous, ‘real’ properties.[11] In the process, the richly suggestive commentaries in State, Power, Socialism’s final chapter on the transition to a democratic socialism are not mentioned, and nor are Gramsci’s nuanced discussions within his notebooks of the integral state. Taking the latter, he contends that we should not abolish the barometer (the state) in order to abolish bad weather (capitalism), and as such the ‘end’ of the state should be viewed as the point at which the ethical state is created in the name of a regulated society based upon equality. Therefore, an emancipatory statolatry is that which identifies the struggle for a transformed society with new forms of state life which are no longer phenomenologically separate from civil society.[12] While it is most welcome that Moore considers the possibilities for emancipation at such length, to some extent the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.

It should be stressed, in conclusion, that some of the above points have been made a little more provocatively than would normally be the case, given the nature of this forum. In that sense, I would like to reiterate that this book contains numerous positives, especially when it comes to issues that IPE scholars have barely considered (if at all). Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that, in breaking so much new ground, some aspects of the argument would be left open to question. As such, it is a book which is highly recommended for its integration of a range of literatures into one monograph, plus for the compelling case for the limitations inherent to much IPE scholarship, ‘critical’ or otherwise. I look forward to further developments and elaborations of these points in future publications.


[1] University of Manchester

[2] Moore, P.V. (forthcoming) ‘Where is the study of work in critical IPE?’ International Politics.

[3] Moore P.V. (2007) Globalisation and Labour Struggle in Asia: A neo-Gramscian Critique of South Korea’s Political Economy. London: I.B. Tauris.

[4] Bruff, I. (2010) ‘Germany’s Agenda 2010 reforms: passive revolution at the crossroads’. Capital & Class, 34:3, 409-28.

[5] Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks, eds. and trans. Q. Hoare and G. Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 161.

[6] Cf. Morton, A.D. (2010) ‘The continuum of passive revolution’. Capital & Class, 34:3, 315-42; Femia, J.V. (1981) Gramsci’s Political Thought: Hegemony, Consciousness, and the Revolutionary Process. Oxford: Clarendon, 46.

[7] Thompson, E.P. (1967) ‘Time, work-discipline and industrial capitalism’. Past & Present, 38:1, 56-97.

[8] Poulantzas, N. (1978) State, Power, Socialism, trs. P. Camiller. London: New Left Books, 54-75 especially.

[9] Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks, eds. and trans. Q. Hoare and G. Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 279-318.

[10] Cf. Bruff, I. (2012) ‘The body in capitalist conditions of existence: a foundational approach’, in A. Cameron, J. Dickinson and N. Smith, eds., Body/State, Farnham: Ashgate.

[11] Bruff, I. (2011) ‘Overcoming the state/market dichotomy’, in S. Shields, I. Bruff and H. Macartney, eds., Critical International Political Economy: Dialogue, Debate and Dissensus. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 80-98; cf. Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks, eds. and trans. Q. Hoare and G. Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 445-6.

[12] Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks, eds. and trans. Q. Hoare and G. Nowell-Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 257-69.

Review by John Smith

The subject of this stimulating book is employability, shorthand for how ‘workers… manage their subjectivities and… equip themselves to remain employable in preparation for the post-industrial world’ (p. 2). Its central thesis is that ‘employability’ is being redefined by ‘an increasingly international hegemonic project of skills reform that occurs within the superstructure, or in this case at the level of ideas and human subjectivity’ (p. 2). It develops its arguments through an extensive literature review and through three case studies: the UK, South Korea and Singapore. The literature review is used to elaborate a neo-Gramscian theoretical framework; as for the case studies, despite differences noted by Moore, ‘all three of these nations look increasingly like neoliberal capitalist models…. each of the three nations has been enthusiastic about the use of education as a direct instrument for growth… the resulting skills revolutions can be legitimately analysed and compared as attempted neoliberal capitalist hegemonic projects’ (p. 16). These ‘skills revolutions’, she explains, are touted as liberating and empowering but are in fact designed to subordinate and enslave, and it is these ‘traits of trasformismo that give a unifying logic for my choice of case studies’ (p. 117).

She concludes by arguing that ‘the creative and networked industries may be the space for creating post capitalist ecologies of production and even societies that are built on tenets that contradict and challenge the very basis of capitalism’ (pp. 139-140), and in particular that ‘the P2P [peer-to-peer] movement… holds the potential to embody the next age of global political economic history and a form of socialism’ (p. 144), and that ‘this mode of production poses a real threat to the current dominant mode’ (p. 146).

This review assesses these arguments from the standpoint of a Marxist who prefers Lenin to Gramsci and Gramsci to the neo-Gramscians. Despite this book’s impressive insights and important empirical findings, in my opinion its investigation of employment and employability is hindered rather than helped by its theoretical approach.

Perhaps a good place to start is the book’s choice of case studies, which do lend themselves to comparative analysis – but not for the reasons stated by the author. While the UK may be taken as representative of the short list of ‘core’ imperialist nations (which, the late Fred Halliday reminds us, has ‘remained the same for a century and a half, with the single addition of Japan’[1]), Singapore and South Korea are definitely not representative of the ‘peripheral’ oppressed nations of the global South. Instead, these two small nations are almost alone in showing signs of a capacity to traverse the thin pontoon bridge connecting the two sides of this grotesquely divided world, and it is only this that makes them in any way comparable to the UK –  putting in question the claimed universal significance of the findings of the case study analysis.

Related to this is the book’s conception of capitalism’s current neoliberal stage of development. The term ‘neoliberalism’ appears rarely, it is instead presumed to be synonymous with the ‘post-industrial world’, the era of ‘immaterial production’, the ‘knowledge economy’, and other such notions or concepts popular in the neo-Gramscian literature. But the emergence of the so-called ‘knowledge economy’, seen here as the defining feature of neoliberal globalisation, is only one part of a much broader transformation of capitalist production. Over the past three decades the centre of gravity of industrial production has dramatically shifted towards low-wage countries – from approximate parity in 1980, there are now four times as many industrial workers in the global South as in the ‘triad’ nations of Japan, Europe and North America.  If the ‘international’ in IPE includes China, Egypt, the Dominican Republic etc, why all this talk of a post-industrial world? Even in the ‘triad’ nations, isn’t ‘post-industrial’ a bit of a stretch? Industrial production has shifted, and it has changed in other important ways, but it has not been superseded; the neo-Gramscian assumption that it has, in my opinion, leads away from investigating the causes and consequences of this ‘global shift’. To be fair, this real-world development is mentioned, even if the theoretical framework adopted by the book impedes its digestion: ‘[a]s long as capitalist investors seek out the cheapest sites of production, there will be competition with low-cost workers at all levels of the game, and thus pressures will be placed on workers in developed, post-industrial economies to keep afloat with all levels of competition.’ (p. 55)

One aspect of the ‘employability’ discourse really is universal: ‘[a]s the world continues to ‘shrink’ in the age of globalisation… the pressures to ‘flexibilise’ labour markets have seen strikingly similar responses from governments, civil society, and business forces’ (p. 16). In different forms and to different degrees, labour markets across the world are indeed being flexibilised… but flexibilisation means something very different to a FoxConn worker in Shenzhen assembling Dell computers and Apple iPhones than it does to those designing and branding these products in Silicon Valley. The argument developed in this book – ‘[t]he hegemonic project discussed here is a policy-driven discourse that merges skills with competencies and requires lifelong learning from mobile and capable subjects’ (p. 73) – applies much more to Californian knowledge workers than it does to Chinese production workers (or, for that matter, to the low-skill, low-wage workers selling these products in retail outlets across the imperialist world).

Rather than arguing that we are all in the same boat, it seems to me to be essential that we recognise the privileged status of the ‘cognitive workers’ – even if these privileges turn out to be transient; even if, in the end, we will all sink or swim together. A recent study of the Apple iPod value chain,[2] for instance, discovered wage ratios of 55:1 between Apple’s R&D employees and its subcontracted Chinese production workers. This poses some huge and complex questions to which, I would argue, no trend within broadly-defined Marxism has yet found answers. Some very interesting trains of thoughts are provoked by Moore’s comments that ‘capital seeks to [quoting Marx] “use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created”. [3] But the pivotal shift in our era of cognitive capitalism is that the owners of the means of production are not as clearly defined’, (pp. 137-8) and ‘while post-modern theorists look at the subject as being disciplined through bio-power and self-management, Marxists look at the human being as becoming capital’ (p. 140). But if it makes sense to talk of ‘cognitive workers’ as owners of capital or even as the incarnation of capital itself, this implies that at least part of their income represents surplus value extracted from those toiling lower down the value chains. Here, then, is one reason to be deeply sceptical about Moore’s claim that the potential gravediggers of capitalism are to be found among their number.

There are others. Moore claims that ‘the P2P movement… is already demonstrating reciprocal behaviours as essential prerequisites for communism’ (p. 144), and ‘promises to challenge the core activities and premises of competitive capitalism… while market-based capitalism is based on the private ownership of the means of production and hierarchically organised corporations, the peer production model is based on shared ownership’ (p. 145). But only tiny numbers of ‘cognitive workforce’ are actually engaged in P2P production – ‘FS/OS [free software/open source] is an open, evolutionary arena wherein hundreds and sometimes thousands of users voluntarily explore design codes, spot bugs in codes, and make contributions to the code’ (pp. 153-4) – and they do so as a hobby, supporting themselves by engaging in more conventional forms of employment (or from the proceeds of more conventional forms of capital). To my mind this is the least convincing part of Moore’s argument. ‘If OS is indeed a critical space for alternative exchange and creation that fundamentally contrasts with capitalism, then it has the potential to provide the momentum and blueprint for a ‘hardware’ world of distributed infrastructures as well’ (p153). The evidence offered to support these claims is meagre – a list of small-scale projects in different countries that are difficult to evaluate without more information. Moore argues that P2P ‘casts aside the wage relation’ (p160), and represents  ‘a veritable revolutionary threat… a resistance movement that… may, I argue, overcome class struggle and empower people in ways that labour struggle previously has not been able to do’ (p161). The political perspective being proposed here, it seems to me, has much more in common with anarchism than with any type of Marxism; more a way of opting out of the class struggle than a new form of it; a perspective that relegates the most oppressed and exploited – and most multitudinous – of imperialism’s wage slaves to the sidelines. But, just in the last year, waves of strikes in Shenzhen and across Asia announced the emergence onto the world stage of a new, militant, youthful and increasingly female industrial proletariat, while industrial workers in Tunisia and Egypt played a decisive role in opening up a profound anti-capitalist revolutionary process in Arabia. Meanwhile, economic depression in the imperialist heartlands, from which there is no escape, is obliging the ruling classes to tear up the social contract that has for so long paralysed the workers movement in these countries. Now is the time to rediscover and reaffirm our continuity with the historic line of march of the working class, the bearer of human culture; to unflinchingly set our sights upon replacing the dictatorship of capital with the power of working people. ‘Cognitive workers’ and intellectuals will play an important role in advancing or retarding this perspective.


[1] Fred Halliday, 2001, ‘For an international sociology’, in Stephen Hobden and John Hobson (eds.) Historical sociology of international relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (p. 255).

[2] Greg Linden, Jason Dedrick & Kenneth L. Kraemer, 2009, Innovation and Job Creation in a Global Economy: The Case of Apple’s iPod. Personal Computing Industry Center, UC Irvine, p2. http://pcic.merage.uci.edu/papers/2008/InnovationAndJobCreation.pdf.

[3]  Karl Marx, 1973, Grundrisse, London: Pelican (p706).

Review by Owen Worth

Phoebe Moore’s book ‘The International Political Economy of Work and Employability’ draws our attention to a much neglected area of study within the discipline of International Political Economy (IPE). The main contribution of the book is to show how education and skills have been restructured in order to become more employable to the wider global political economy. Much has been made of the notion and the idea of the ‘knowledge economy’ and indeed as a concept it is much used but little explained, yet here we see a real effort to understand its foundations. As a result the book provides a very useful study to how human development has been shaped and reshaped in order to follow the demands of the global economy.

In terms of its main message, Moore’s argument is that a passive revolution has occurred at a global level, whereby states have responded to the globalisation of the knowledge economy and have ‘internationalised’ their respective economic strategies so that they are fully integrated into the global economy. She understands passive revolution through Gramsci’s utilisation of the term. Gramsci argued that a passive revolution occurs when elite classes capture ‘hegemonic power’, through the gaining of ideological consent from subaltern/subordinate classes in order to pursue a specific form of production (Moore, pp. 12-13). Key to this process is his twin concept of trasformismo, where ‘an ambiguity of between rule and resistance’ occurs through the consolidation of ‘ideologies from contrasting perspectives’ and a hegemonic order is formed (pp. 12-13). The premise of the book looks at to what extent the knowledge economy can be seen as a passive revolution at a global level, by assessing the change in work and education in three specific case-studies: the United Kingdom, South Korea and Singapore. Whilst this selection could be seen by some to attract a number of problems and shortcomings, here it fits nicely into the overall arguments and purpose of the book.

In the first chapters, Moore sets out the main premise of the book by arguing that the notion and transformation of work has strangely been relatively silent in critical studies of IPE. Rather than criticising the premise of ‘critical’ IPE or the nature of the ‘British’ school of IPE, as recent accounts have done (Shields, Bruff and MacCartney, 2011), she argues that the study of work needs to emerge from this tradition, and reminds us that indeed both earlier works in IPE (such as from Jeffrey Harrod) and classical texts in political economy (from Smith and Marx) were in fact studies of work. (pp.6-7). Thus, the second chapter is geared towards introducing the notion of ‘work’ and its relationship to the processes of ‘employability’ and ‘skills’. In doing this Moore sets up the empirical chapters well by demonstrating the different components used during the wider process of work.  She also brings back the study of Industrial Relations back into IPE. As it presumes the importance of post-Fordist work relations in order to look at the wider passive revolution of labour, the book makes an invitation for greater integration between the two disciplines (IPE and Industrial Relations) which, she believes are interrelated.

The subsequent chapters explore how the hegemonic changes in the nature of work have been transformed through her case-studies. Again, this transformation is outlined in the previous chapter, where the scientific, psychological and creative aspects of the knowledge economy are discussed. This allows us to have a basis of how each of the states covered have strategically adapted their workforce to the challenges of the knowledge economy. In the case of the UK, this was largely down to the policies of new labour and in the pursuit of public-private initiatives in order that it would create one homogeneous workforce geared towards the challenges of the contemporary world. Interestingly, despite the New Labour project was geared towards the rhetoric of the knowledge economy (the emphasis on flexibility, creativity, information technology etc), the drive towards the restructuring of the nature of work largely occurred with the Brown government and with the 2007 Budget that occurred just before he took the leadership in the UK. This was aided by the Leitch report that argued for drastic change in the UK’s workforce in order to maximize its employability at the global level. Moore argues that these new initiatives provide the latest move in the long process of neoliberal passive revolution that began with the wholesale reforms in the 1980s and has filtered through towards wider society whereby the practices work have been restructured accordingly.

In turning her attention to the ‘East’, Moore outlines how, in the aftermath of the East Asian crisis and the faltering of the ‘Tiger’ economies a revolution in employability was to occur that drew many comparisons with those in the west. Here, education and training systems were both promoted in order to create a culture that would stabilise the economy and make it open for further restructuring (pp.73-82). The main focus here is on South Korea, where IMF loans provided the basis for change. The drive towards greater skill flexibility, towards greater employability and the training programmes for this to be achieved occurred as South Korea looked to gain a competitive advantage in the knowledge-based global economy. From here, the final case-study looks at a third different type of economy – that of Singapore and of the city state. Here, the combination of an authoritarian regime and the reliance upon FDI has prompted an extensive move towards the pursuit of training policies for compliance in the competing global economy.

One in all this is a very useful book that allows us to develop many insights into aspects on the functioning of the global economy. The manner in which passive revolution is understood through the state/global dichotomy is more convincing than many neo-Gramscian accounts. Through these empirical studies, this successfully provides us with one way in which we might understand the formation of international hegemony (although not really ‘global’ as the book suggests). Although the term is not used per se, what is demonstrated well is how the process of the ‘internationalism of the state’ has taken place, and the change in the labour process has been a key condition of this. What might have strengthened the analysis further is a greater focus on Gramsci’s own writing on education and work and the many notes he made upon the culture(s) and complexities that are formulated within them. Throughout the many reproductions of the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci’s made a vast array of comments on how cultural, linguistical and educational practices articulated both inside and outside the workplace that contribute towards the bottom-up process involved in the construction of hegemony. Whilst the book does well to utilise traditional Gramscian theory, in order to pursue this work further it might be useful to look at these more explicit writings that return to the (often general) narratives supplied by the neo-Gramscians. The cultural processes involved in the training schemes mentioned could certainly be developed more alongside this and this could greater even greater potential for the ongoing interest and application of Gramsci within the social sciences.

Returning to the well drawn out case-studies in the book, the content here has again much to offer future, similar studies that might be pursued in other states. At the same time, the book is also extremely timely, especially in the current condition of the global economy. Whilst certain states are pursuing austerity measures in order to reduce debt and pledges to maintain a flexible workforce to prompt recovery, one of the first states that adopted an educational strategy to gain a competitive advantage in the global economy is in turmoil. The ‘economic miracle’ that occurred in Ireland in the guise of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ rested upon a highly educated, highly flexible workforce capable of providing transferable skills that would attract investment. Indeed, such was Ireland’s economic success that states began to initiate schemes of the sort that are mentioned in this book. The collapse of the Irish model provides a warning to those who believe that these forms of restructuring will ultimately lead to sustained success. More importantly for reasons of humanity, the pursuit of employability shows just how far the modern workforce is being understood as commodity entities in a globalised world.

To summarise Moore’s book is a higher useful contribution to studies within IPE. More importantly there is much to develop from the piece which should lead to subsequent research from both the authors and others to follow. There are parts to the book that need greater develop – the last chapter on forms of alternative forms of production is highly interesting, but I personally remain sceptical to viability of these as sustainable alternatives. However these are debates that can be pursued as a result of the work. For, in my opinion the real achievements of this book is that it opens up a large number of enquiries – both theoretical and empirical – that have either been understated or ignored when looking at wider questions on issues such as globalisation and the global political economy.

References

Shields, S. Bruff, I. and Macartney, H. (eds.) (2011) Critical International Political

Economy (Basingstoke: Palgrave)

Author’s Reply by Phoebe V. Moore[1]

The reviewed book, International Political Economy of Work and Employability (Palgrave, 2010) was published in the International Political Economy series and was launched at Blackwell’s on Oxford Road in Manchester 12th November 2010. In the first instance, I would like to thank my reviewers, Ian Bruff, John Smith, and Owen Worth for their generous and fair comments. And secondly, I encourage the wider audience to have a look at my latest work as well as my previous interventions, and as a strategy to keep the discussion within the parameters of the narrative made across my range of publications, I make reference to several points I’ve made over time, in my response to the reviews for Global Discourse.

There is no dispute across reviewers that the empirical material in my book is excellent, which I was fortunate to have funding to carry out from the Economics and Social Research Council (2005) and from the European Studies Research Institute at Salford University (2009). I travelled to South Korea on a number of occasions and was privileged to be able to hold a range of semi-structured interviews with a number of decision-makers as well as with workers and unionists. I travelled across the UK to carry out similar interviews.  In my theoretical analysis, my work has been largely influenced by the neo-Gramscian school, but as I point out, this school, which exists within  the critical strand of International Political Economy has not put ‘work’ at the centre of its research agenda, which I would encourage (2010, 2011).

My 2010 book follows the course set within my monograph entitled Globalisation and Labour Struggle in Asia: A Neo-Gramscian Critique of South Korea’s Political Economy (I.B. Tauris 2007). This 2007 book, to be published in paperback in March 2012, traces the history of South Korea’s vocational training policies from just after the Second World War, noting how skills required of the workforce have been explicitly linked to perceived global demand. I was perplexed by the seeming contradictions that these policies revealed when placed alongside Korea’s fierce nationalism and militant unionism. Gramsci’s theoretical insight which he called trasformismo is the tool I choose to use in order to understand these complexities in both this 2007 book, and my latest 2010 monograph. Crucially, how does a government convince a decidedly resistant nation to embrace what are communicated to be global norms and requirements for citizens? The role of the powerful economic international institutions the IMF and UNEVOC come to the fore in this context, as their policies were used for legitimisation and for externalisation of responsibility. So in the 2010 book I argued that Gramscian hegemony, which is defined by the lack of explicit social unrest, is not evident throughout Korea’s globalising trajectory, as in noted by my documentation of a series of uprisings. Passive revolution, I indicate, is a project engineered and authored by the organic intellectual class.

Trasformismo, which occurs in the cultural and social dimensions of what Marx defined as the ‘superstructure’, prevents a complete revolution from occurring and is seen within cultural, linguistic, and educational practices and norms. Worth points out in his review, ‘throughout the many reproductions of the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci has made a vast array of comments on how cultural, linguistical and educational practices articulated both inside and outside the workplace that contribute towards the bottom-up process involved in the construction of hegemony’.  The reviewed monograph addresses educational practices as dictated by employment and education policies noted in three areas of the world. Cultural and linguistic dimensions are only unfortunately only alluded to, but this comment in Worth’s comprehensive review is an indication of further research that will enhance the remit of available work in this area. Educational skills policies, I argue, increasingly place responsibility for employability onto the individual over time, and this has resulted in passive revolution, rather than revolution. This is clearly defined throughout my work. The following quote from my 2010 book clarifies how I operationalize Gramscian concepts, and indeed addresses most of the points brought out in Bruff’s review, which misreads the clear delineation of concepts I offer. The concepts of Gramscian hegemony, passive revolution and trasformismo are outlined here:

Passive revolution creates an ambiguity between rule and resistance by consolidating ideologies from contrasting perspectives, through what Gramsci called trasformismo. The Gramscian concept of hegemony is an idea that overall represents leading ideas and assumptions held by leaders and leading class cadres within societies, but leadership is not sustainable unless the hegemonic ideas saturate society to the extent that it ‘constitutes the limits of common sense for most people under its sway’ (Williams 1980) and trasformismo controls ‘common sense’. In the current trend of neoliberal capitalist societies, common sense is increasingly hard to separate from good sense, and it is the project of this book and of the critical theorist to disentangle these, and to get to the heart of emancipatory projects that are as restricting and isolating as the processes of Taylorism and piecework management of the industrial age. Trasformismo is enacted by managers, politicians, civil servants, and educators who can be seen as members of the transnational capitalist class (van der Pijl 1984, 1997; Sklair 1997, 2001a, 2001b). Trasformismo is seen in policy discourse and application that appears to give power to workers, in a way that might impress the autonomistas, except that in practice, this discourse looks nothing like the operaismo movement as envisaged by Paolo Virno, Antonio Negri, Mario Tronti, and others (2010, 13).

Toward the end of the writing process for my 2007 book, I began to recognise a pattern whereby trasformismo of policy results in a passive revolution, and thus prevents complete revolution and social, anti-capitalist change in an expanding number of locations. Governments across the world have created utopian visions of skills policy, intended to become common sense and universally accepted (and thus, hegemonic in the Gramscian sense). Visionary projects that enable trasformismo are evident in Korea’s policy campaign ‘Edutopia’, also entitled the ‘Skills Revolution’ that is addressed in the 2007 piece. So my 2010 monograph looks at uncannily similar policies in the UK, where I discovered the emerging ‘Renaissance for a New Britain’ policy campaign; and Singapore’s campaigns which paint this city state as the world’s ‘Talent Capital’. Instead of choosing to defend human rights of workers’ rights in the context of rampant globalisation and a rapidly changing world, governments focussed on the personal and reflexive responsibilities of workers. I even go as far as to claim that governments increasingly neglect to take responsibility for welfare particularly during times of crisis and structural adjustment in the context of the Asian Tigers.

So trasformismo allows a ‘passive’ control of labour workers increasingly rely on ‘self-woven safety-nets’ (Moore 2006). Bruff is correct to point out that trasformismo in the way I have utilised the concept is very similar to Foucault’s concept of governmentality, and I would even go as far as to argue that postmodern and poststructural work owes intellectual currency to Gramsci for ideas of ‘interpellation’ (Althusser 1969) and ‘subjectification’ (Foucault 2010).  Marxists are less likely to accept that these philosophical points are valid, because poststructural writers do not perhaps position themselves as ‘revolutionary’ or expand on the exploitative dimensions of the care of self in the way that Marxists might like. However, the practices (if they can be called as such) of trasformismo, of interpellation, of governmentality, and subjectification do NOT bring about hegemony in the way Gramsci defines it, even in its inherently transitory conditions. These are projects of domination, and my book does not stray from this commitment at any point. Indeed, my claim in this 2010 monograph is that policies I outline contribute to an international passive revolution.

Unlike Bruff’s interpretations in his review, I do not equate government-led Skills Revolutions with the movements I identify in the final chapter which contain autonomist notions of the multitude and emancipation via trans-individuality. As I explicitly state, these government-led ‘projects are not self-valorising and do not allow for the self-management as perceived and advocated by workerists, but these projects are evidence of trasformismo at work’ (Moore 2010, 14). In other words, the autonomist perception of self-management is not aligned with employability policy rhetoric: in fact it is quite the opposite. Change of policy to include promised emancipation and freedoms and related self-titled ‘revolutions’ are foundational to passive revolution at the point whereby the discourses of socialist movements become subsumed and adapted into policy, or redefined to eliminate revolutionary potential. These ideas are intended to become part of people’s work practice as well as subjectivities as I outline in detail in the monograph, which enforces their dominance, not hegemony, but dominance. The policies covered in this monograph are projects of social control.

The appeal to workers’ subjectivities included in the ‘promise’ for employability is framed in such a way as to appear to provide tools for workers’ survival in an increasingly uncertain world. Training programmes appear to offer worker empowerment or authority, such as limited self-management of worker associations, but are ultimately managed by pre-existing power structures or formal discussion platforms. These provisions have been designed to tackle the needs of workers to remain or to become newly employable through the cultivation of workers’ subjectivities, but do not meet fundamental needs, which include basic humane working conditions and involve the need for secure employment in the more recent years in every country of the world. (2010, 14)

In the final chapter of this book, I introduce observations of potentially revolutionary movements. The peer to peer production movement and various self-contained production arrangements are of course contentious for orthodox Marxists (see in particular Smith’s review for these a list of cautions). The movements I identify run the risk of being written back into elite policy in a way that undermines their potential. My book however stands out in contrast to other Marxist texts in International Political Economy on related subjects, as I recognise potential for upheaval, and this upheaval comes about through production and shared subjectivities and a growing awareness of alienation.  In recently published work (Moore 2011b), I begin to engage with authors such as Felix Guattari (2008) who points out that social relations, human subjectivity, and the environment are all contributing features of resistance movements which have the potential to become fully revolutionary and to initiate social change. If liberating concepts are not subsumed, or are not subjected to trasformismo, and even begin to fulfil the goals that are set, they can be perceived as potentially revolutionary toward autonomous, affective practices (see Colman 2010). However, I will not attempt to force the debate about uses of poststructuralism in Marxist analyses, because that debate is another monograph to be written in its own right. Two pieces providing insight into these possibilities are for example Nick Dyer-Witheford (1999) and Jason Read (2011). But for now, my book indicates that ‘passive revolution creates an ambiguity between resistance and rule by merging ideologies of both in a manner less obviously coercive but coercive all the same, using the technique that Gramsci called trasformismo. Passive revolution is a transnational project and cannot be seen otherwise in the contemporary age’ (Moore 2010, 4).

References

Althusser, Louis Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes towards an Investigation) (1969) published in English in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (1971).

Colman, Felicity J. ‘Affective self: feminist thinking and feminist actions’, in Contemporary French and Francophone Studies: Site 14: 5 (2010).

Dyer-Witheford, Nick Cyber-Marx: Cycles and circuits of struggle in high-technology capitalism (University of Illinois Press, 1999).

Foucault, Michel The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the Collège de France  1982-1983, edited by Arnold I. Davidson, translated by Graham Burchell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

Guattari, Felix The Three Ecologies (London: Continuum, 2008).

Moore, Phoebe ‘Where is the study of WORK in critical International Political Economy?’ International Politics (2011a ) (in press).

Moore, Phoebe ‘Subjectivity in the Ecologies of P2P Production’ The Journal of Fibreculture FCJ-119 (2011b).

Moore, Phoebe Globalisation and Labour Struggle in Asia: A Neo-Gramscian Critique of South Korea’s Political Economy (I.B. Tauris 2007, 2012).

Moore, Phoebe ‘Global Knowledge Capitalism, Self-Woven Safety Nets, and the Crisis of Employability’.Global Society, 20:4 (2006) 453–473.

Read, Jason ‘The Production of Subjectivity: From Transindividuality to the Commons’ New Formations 70 (Winter 2011) 113-131(19).


[1] PhD International Relations (IR), University of Nottingham, MA IR Asia Pacific, International University of Japan, Lecturer in IR and International Political Economy,  University of Salford, Greater Manchester.