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The scientific program described below reflects the second CRIMT project under the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program. Covering the period 2008-2015 (and well beyond in terms of impact), it provides a framework for all the research activities carried out since the spring of 2008. The activities carried out previously, which are included in this site’s various sections (e.g. publications 2003-2007), refer to the first CRIMT project under the Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program (grant 2003-2007, now completed and for which a research summary can still be consulted for reference purposes by clicking on this link).


Globalization is a multi-faceted phenomenon that touches all spheres of society (Held and McGrew 2000; Steger 2003). Economically, it occurs principally through increased economic exchanges beyond national borders, and contributes, albeit it in variable and uneven ways across regions (Blackett and Lévesque 2010), to greater integration (OECD 2007). This integration results notably in the liberalization of trade conditions, driven by national governments and international governing bodies, technological advances in transport and communication, and the growth in foreign direct investment due to the unprecedented mobility of capital and production activities. All this occurs in a way that is increasingly dependent on international financial markets.

Global economic competition, and the restructuring which accompanies it, provoke debate within and beyond the scientific community about the role and effectiveness of the institutions of work and employment. These debates are polarized around three contrasting narratives. The first posits that institutions, especially formal state rules such as labour laws and systems of social welfare, represent an obstacle to the optimal functioning of the markets. Even though an exaggerated viewpoint, such a representation that institutions can be perceived as obstacles to economic and social progress has a tremendous ‘common sense’ effect on the collective imagination of the actors in the world of work.

This vision of homogenization forces into opposition a second narrative which is much more open to the variability of contexts and the strategic options of economic and social agents. Based on empirical evidence on the heterogeneity of the strategies of companies (Berger 2006), unions, (Frege and Kelly 2004) and nation states (Guillén 2001; Bélanger and Trudeau 2010) – observations enriched by the work of CRIMT coresearchers – institutions become a prerequisite for the proper functioning of the markets (Jacoby 2005; Streek and Thelan 2005; Morgan et al. 2010). The challenge for a large number of societies, like Quebec or Canada, is to find the right balance between economic and social development by promoting best practices in human capital, labour relations and, more broadly, in social regulation. Thus, the challenge is to adopt the best institutional design.

Four observations lead us to go beyond this interpretation. Firstly, if research identifies the principles that contribute to productive and satisfying employment, equally, it highlights the difficulties and obstacles linked to the application of these principles (Bélanger et al. 2004; Godard 2004; Hecksher and Adler 2006; Bélanger and Thuderoz 2010). Secondly, the gap between the institutions from the ‘old’ world of work and the contemporary world of work becomes apparent, especially in the case of new forms of employment, often precarious and gendered, or involving migrant workers (Stone 2004; Vallée 2005; Marchington et al. 2005; Fudge 2010; Coutu and Murray 2010). Thirdly, the growth and interpenetration of levels, spaces and sources where work regulation is agreed upon is no longer solely the concern of the nation state and, institutionally, makes the game considerably more complex (Moreau 2006; Davidov and Langille 2006; Roux and Laflamme 2008; Verge 2010; Drouin 2010; Blackett and Lévesque 2010; Murray and Trudeau forthcoming). Fourthly, the change agents do not always have the skills and frames of reference required to participate in institutional renewal and to respond to the challenges that stem from it (Salais and Villeneuve 2004; Kristensen and Zeitlin 2005; Lévesque and Murray 2010; Murray et al. 2010).

Unlike the first two narratives where the institution is seen as a social entity independent of actors, a third narrative suggests that institutions cannot be considered independently of the collective actors who build and transform them. Institutions are a result of the dynamic power relations which occur between actors over the years and, equally, they structure this process. By both constraining and enabling, they can lock actors into paths of dependency (constantly re-doing the same thing because their skills and repertoire of action condemn them to do so) that open up spaces for innovation. The capacity to negotiate institutional change and renewal are thus at the heart of socio-economic development. However, as suggested by Streek (2007), the current phase of globalization significantly affects the capacity for action of the officials involved, and it is indeed a new dynamic of which it is important to grasp the significance. The scientific program of CRIMT falls precisely within this context.

Many questions arise from this third approach that inform our research program. How does globalization change the rules of the game in the world of work? What are the points of reference for the actors in the workplace, and their means of dialogue with regard to change? Do actors succeed in identifying the nature of changes in the context in which they operate and do they develop the knowledge and skills to deal with it? Our research aims to better understand the process of institutional innovation and the renewal of actors’ capacities to adapt to change, or even to control it. If it is not possible to stop globalization, it is vital to track its course and effects, creating levers, remedies and mechanisms of debate that allow actors to influence economic decisions in order that social considerations can be taken into account.

Three main principles guide our approach. First, particular attention is paid to the mutual conditioning between actors and institutions. Globalization is thus perceived as a process in which different actors renegotiate the rules, social norms and work institutions. The detailed study of this process enables us to elucidate how actors confront changes and participate in the evolution of their society. Second, to advance understanding of these phenomena in the Quebec and Canadian contexts, we must focus on interdisciplinary, comparative studies at the national and international levels. Third, it is important to take into account the different levels of social regulation and the interactions between them, whether it is the particular characteristics of workers and their socio-professional trajectories, the ways in which companies and work are organized, the role of collective identities and workplace representation, or public policies in matters relating to work.

Overall structure

The presentation of our research program takes two forms, a synoptic overview in tabular form (downloadable in PDF) and a more detailed look at the themes, projects and specific contributions, including the name of the co-researchers and students involved, as well as a selection of activities and resulting publications. The five priority themes that form the objects of study in this program are:

Theme 1 : Multinational Companies (MNCs) and Global Value Chains

Theme 2 : New Frontiers for Citizenship at Work

Theme 3 : The Restructuring of the State and of its Modes of Regulation

Theme 4 : Rethinking Collective Representation

Theme 5 : The Social Dynamics of Institutional Comparative Advantage

The five themes include 27 distinct subprojects, a number of which make several cross-theme contributions. A sixth theme crosses the first five horizontally, and pays particular attention to the resources and skills of the actors who intervene at the international level and, at the same time, opens a dialogue at the heart of the Centre and with society about the impact of these trends for economic and social agents. We call this initiative ‘globalized actors’.

Note also the undertaking of an important terminology project that encompasses all the work carried out within the Centre. This is an Analytical Dictionary of Globalization and Labour (DAMT), drawn up in three languages (English, French and Spanish) by the team of Jeanne Dancette, professor at the Department of linguistics and translation at the University of Montreal, and in collaboration with several of the Centre’s co-researchers, including, Reynald Bourque, Michel Coutu, Patrice Jalette and Gregor Murray. The electronic version of the dictionary can be displayed by language and, through hyperlinks, facilitates the transition from one term to another. This assists in both information retrieval and the search for language equivalence. The items presented cover the key concepts of the globalization of work that are explored within the framework of the CRIMT-MCRI project. They refer, in the semantic relationship tables, to many other terms that define our common vocabulary. For ease of reference, each item has been assigned to one or more areas in which the term belongs, such as economic, institutional and social context (theme 5), the multinational company, global value chains and their restructuring (theme 1), collective representation (theme 4), labour standards (theme 3), decent work and fair globalization (theme 2), to name but a few.

The ‘research themes’ heading takes a detailed look at the five major themes which structure the Centre’s research program. Notably, it details the co-researchers and the doctoral students involved, the organized scientific activities, the audio-visual content available and publications produced.
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