Conflicts over Values and Orders of Worth in the German Energy Transition: Tertiary Orientations of Work and Employment within the Primary Sector

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
TW1.1.04 (Tower One)
Heike Jacobsen, Brandenburg University Cottbus, Cottbus, Germany
Franziska Blazejewski, Brandenburg University Cottbus, Cottbus, Germany
German energy supplying companies are confronted with very volatile institutional conditions: European policies for greater energy efficiency as well as German policies for energy transition (“Energiewende”) require not only adaptation to new regulations but open up opportunities for disruptive innovation in energy production (renewables instead of fossil and atomic power) and energy efficiency services (e.g. consultancy and management for customers, decentralized network management, trade in energy or in carbon dioxide certificates).

What are the effects of these institutional changes and challenges on the organization of work and use of qualifications in energy supplying companies? The energy sector was characterized by very stable employment conditions and industrial relationships in the past. These conditions are challenged by strategies for increased functional and numerical flexibility as well as by changes in structures of acknowledgement and appreciation for different internal functions: customer oriented and commercial functions tend to gain relevance as opposed to administrative and technical functions. With this, traditional models of the organization of work in the primary and secondary sector become devaluated and exchanged against models of work in the tertiary sector. This process is highly conflictual.

We investigated such conflicts in a qualitative study of German energy suppliers and interpreted them as struggles between different orders of worth (Economie des conventions: Thévenot/ Boltanski; Salais). Technicians, front-line employees and administrative workers actualize different orders of worth when they are engaged in redefining their internal relevance and in ensuring their future working conditions against new management strategies. We see new lines of inequality rising between these formerly relatively homogenous groups of employees. References to market, network and project oriented values tend to override references to industrial and common good values. By this, younger and more business oriented employees begin to reshape the profile of this sector. But, technical expertise remains essential for the functioning of this sector. The question is first, how the internal struggle for relevance affects the likeliness of a successful “energy transition” and second, how new inequalities within the sectoral work force is related to a secular change towards more generalized competencies as opposed to more specialized (technical) qualifications within a “knowledge economy”.