Skills and Politics: General and Specific

Wolfgang Streeck

in The Political Economy of Collective Skill Formation

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780199599431
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731518 | DOI:
Skills and Politics: General and Specific

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Skills and skill formation have become central topics in contemporary political economy. This essay traces a key concept in the current debate—the distinction between general and specific skills—back to its diverse origins in American postwar labor economics, comparative industrial relations, and human capital theory. To show how the distinction has evolved over time and between disciplines, it is related to other dual classifications of work skills, such as high versus low, broad versus narrow, theoretical versus experiential, professional versus occupational, explicit versus tacit, extrafunctional versus functional, and certifiable versus noncertifiable. The aim is to reconstruct how notions of skill generality and skill specificity came to be used as the foundation of an economistic-functionalist “production regime,” “varieties of capitalism,” or “asset” theory of welfare state development, and generally of politics under capitalism.

Keywords: Human capital theory; Institutional economics; Asset specificity; Skills; Germany; United States

Chapter.  16280 words. 

Subjects: Knowledge Management

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