Now that the Future has Arrived: A Retrospective Reassessment of Gershuny's Theory of Social Innovation

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Abstract
At the beginning of the 1980s Jonathan Gershuny developed a bold framework for thinking about what kinds of social organisation might come ‘after industrial society’. The development of the theory of ‘social innovation’ coincided with Gershuny’s deepening interest in the information provided by time-diaries. At the centre of the theory of social innovation is the relationship between market and non-market provision of services. Gershuny argued that, over time, the relative market prices of durable goods and final services produces a tendency toward ‘self-service’, where households eschew the purchase of increasingly expensive final services and substitute them with home produced services. On this basis, Gershuny predicted the decline of time devoted to market work, a tendency he calls the ‘diminishing marginal utility of income’ and an increase in the time spent at home in self-servicing (non-market production) and in leisure consumption. Time spent in non-market production would be in turn diminished by the increasing productivity of domestic technology and the increased sexual equality in the domestic division of labour, producing a society of greater leisure. The beginning of a new century provides a suitable opportunity to reflect on whether the information from the growing body of time use data collected since the publication Social Innovation and the Division of Labour supports the central tenets of Gershuny’s thesis. This paper argues that Gershuny’s predictions have gone awry because they overlooked two key factors – his failure to consider the effect of labour demand on the distribution of hours of paid work and his neglect of bargaining over the domestic division of labour.
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Bittman, Michael
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2000
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