Degrees and Programs

Labor Studies Guidelines

Labor studies comprises an examination of work, workers and worker organizations, both historically and in a contemporary context.

Labor studies is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon the methodologies and subject matter of the social sciences and humanities. Scholars in other interdisciplinary fields, such as American studies, women’s studies and African-American studies, also have helped to define labor studies methodologically.

Concentrations in labor studies generally include studies that focus on aspects of labor related to:

  • history
  • sociology
  • economics
  • politics

In addition, labor studies students should be able to express their ideas clearly, both orally and in writing, and should be capable of undertaking research in relevant areas.

While labor studies degree programs will vary in focus and approach, they should include exposure to:

  • historical perspectives on the changing nature of work and the role of workers in effecting social change
  • theories of social stratification and the interaction of class, race and gender
  • examinations of economic, social and political change as they affect workers in the United States and internationally
  • quantitative or other methodological perspectives appropriate to the concentration.

A variety of degree designs can correspond to the guidelines. While no individual degree program need include all of the following, labor studies students consider such topics as:

  • the breadth of labor studies: the interdisciplinary characteristics of labor studies; methodologies that labor studies specialists draw from the social sciences and humanities; subject matter from other disciplines relevant to labor studies
  • labor history: the impact of workers and labor movements on historical development; how history has shaped labor's role in society; how organized workers and those outside trade unions have come to recognize distinct interests and traditions; how workers formulated strategies for defending and extending their interests in light of employer interests and government policy
  • institutional dynamics: what labor organizations do and how they function; how workers utilize political institutions to achieve their goals; how family, community and educational structures define labor; how racial, gender and ethic identities influence work, the workplace and the labor movement
  • social and cultural factors: how class, racial, ethnic and gender divisions function within society; how social identities are formed and social inequalities maintained or modified; how people experience and affect social structures and institutions
  • how the economy affects labor: how market economies create the framework for labor movements; how worker and employer interests manifest themselves in the workplace; how wages are determined; how local, regional and international economic development affect labor
  • labor-management relations: how workers organize unions; how workers bargain for and enforce contracts; how labor addresses such issues as wages, hours, health and safety and social benefits; how management responds to worker strategies; how legislation mirrors and influences labor relations; how government's role in labor-management relations changes
  • workers outside the United States: the degree to which the histories, interests and institutions of workers in other countries are similar to those of their counterparts in the U.S.; regional or global trends that affect workers in different parts of the world
  • images of workers: how images of work, workers and their organizations are depicted in literature, the arts and the media; how workers create images of themselves
  • theories of the labor movement: philosophies that analyze, influence and reflect labor’s growth; how the labor movement shifts divergent perspectives regarding short-term and long-term objectives.

Note: The labor studies area of study is offered only in New York City and through online study.

 

Revised October 1996