international division of labour

The specialization of particular countries in distinct branches of production, whether this be in certain products, or in selected parts of the production process. The concept suggests that the spread of markets and production processes world-wide creates (as indeed this same process has done within particular economies) a growing differentiation of economic activity. However, whereas in orthodox economics the division of labour as such is seen as providing mutual benefit for these specialized branches of activity, alternative analyses of the international division of labour stress the inequalities and structured hierarchies which it creates. Thus, Folker Fröbel and his colleagues (The New International Division of Labour, 1980), analysing the industrialization of selected Third World countries in the late 1970s, showed how this involved the creation of a new (often mainly feminine) working class that worked for lower wages and in inferior conditions on new electrical and other assembly lines. Some theories and studies of post-industrial society suggest that a significant proportion of industrial activity, and particularly its ecologically damaging and low-skill elements, are being shifted to intermediate and developing countries (‘the new international division of labour’). See also labour-market segmentation.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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