The moral economy of work and employment in banks



Laaser K (2013) The moral economy of work and employment in banks. Doctor of Philosophy. University of Strathclyde.

Considering the backdrop of volatile markets, the endurance of economic recession, and intensified radical economic and workplace restructuring, it is ever more important to understand how contemporary and past employment relationships enable or constrain people's flourishing. The aim of this research study is to capture the dynamic relationship between the organisation and nature of bank work and workers' moral economy between the late 1970s and 2000s. The research is underpinned by a novel, holistic, theoretical framework that brings together moral economy and labour process approaches. The moral economy is at the heart of the framework and is informed by three key thinkers: Karl Polanyi and E. P. Thompson, who capture the ubiquitous tension between a stable, moral and human society and the economic practices of liberalised markets, and by Andrew Sayer's consideration of lay morality. The moral economy and labour process framework provides insightful analysis of how and why the m aterial reality of economic practices and the organisation of work are experienced, mediated and re-shaped by different groups of actors. By utilising a realist and deeply qualitative approach, the research is informed by thirty-nine work oral history interviews with different generations of bank workers. It examines the radical transformation of the organisation of work and its moral economy in clearing banks between the late 1970s and 2000s. Thereby, the thesis offers a critical analysis of the bureaucratic and paternalistic principles that guided bank work until the late 1980s but also provides insights into the dynamics of social connection between workers and people's attachment to the occupation.  These findings are set in contrast to the organisation of work in the 1990s and 2000s and their disconnection from the moral economy of the past. It is suggested that bank work has been radically re-structured and is dominated by a marketized labour process that instrumentalises human engagement and social relations that, in turn, fosters disconnection and individualisation. Nevertheless, the thesis suggests that even under poor working conditions social and moral dimensions of humanity persist and enable workers to humanise the labour process. 

Moral economy; bank work; labour process theory; performance of management; social relations of production; financialization

SupervisorsBolton, Sharon; Thory, Kathryn
InstitutionUniversity of Strathclyde
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Qualification levelDoctoral
Publication date31/12/2013

People (1)


Dr Knut Laaser

Dr Knut Laaser

Lecturer, Management, Work and Organisation