Browse/search for people

Dr Harry Pitts

Dr Harry Pitts

Dr Harry Pitts
PhD, MRes, MA, BA Hons

Lecturer in Management

Office 3.08 (Howard House)
Howard House,
Queen's Avenue, Bristol BS8 1SD
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 39 40523

Summary

In a nutshell, my research explores how different actors- workers, managers, politicians, activists, policymakers and intellectuals- understand, experience and organise the changing world of work and economic life. This overarching agenda breaks down into three intersecting themes, each comprising more specific areas of interest:

1) The organisation and management of work and economic futures This strand of my research explores how the changing world of work is organised, managed, experienced and contested in thought and practice by those employed and self-employed in a range of different fields and industries, including the creative industries and professional services. It consists of five areas of interest:

Organising the self-employed Growing out of research with freelance creatives in the Netherlands funded by the EU COST Action for Dynamics of Virtual Work, reported in a recent book chapter, and an ESRC-funded research collaboration with Unite the Union, an ongoing concern of my research has been the development of alternative labour strategies for the organisation of the unorganised. Funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund/National Productivity Investment Fund, I have been working with Indycube.Community, the co-working cooperative and trade union for the self-employed, on the feasibility of the implementation of the Belgian SMart model in the UK. As part of this, I am currently investigating how self-employed workers can use new collective institutions to overcome some of the challenges associated with the Universal Credit. I am also interested in the Dutch Broodfonds model and its possible application in the UK.

New ways of working in an age of digital transformation With an ESRC grant funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund/National Productivity Investment Fund, I am working with Vodafone on how work and workplaces are organised in the context of digital transformations, with a specific focus on agile working methods and the impacts of automation and artificial intelligence. This follows previous research on the organisation, measurement and valuation of work in a range of digital and creative contexts. These preoccupations is reflected in my research-led teaching, which in the first-year core unit Global Business Environment centres on the role of platforms in restructuring Global Production Networks and international divisions of labour, and in the second-year optional unit, People, Work & Organisations, considers the darker side of how new organisational forms are lived and experienced by managers and workers.

Work in the creative industries My previous research has centred on the creative industries as a forum for many of the wider changes associated with the new world of work. My ESRC-funded doctoral research explored how creative labour is measured, valued and quantifie d in graphic design, advertising and branding agencies in the UK and the Netherlands. Supported by the EU COST Action for Dynamics of Virtual Work, I conducted a study of how freelance creatives organise the individual and collective times and spaces in which they work, resulting in two chapters (here and here) for edited collections in the COST Action book series. Alongside this empirical focus, my work has also been concerned with how a Marxian theoretical lens can be applied to capture and conceptualise the economic position of the creative industries, including through contributions to tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique and the Creative Industries Journal.

Measuring and valuing work time in the professional services A recurring theme of my empirical work has been how work time is measured, valued and quantified in fields where the character of the work makes this difficult. My research into this topic has focused on the system of billable hours whereby professional services firms bill work out to clients and budget the internal allocation and completion of working hours. My ESRC-funded doctoral research investigated how this system structures the experience, management and practice of creative labour in graphic design, advertising and branding agencies, and some of the tensions and conflicts that open up around it. I am currently developing research with firms in other professional service fields, such as tax accountancy, to continue thinking through the impacts of the billable hour upon companies and their employees, and the possible alternatives.

Self-quantification in and against the digital workday Another strand of my research into the measurement of work and time has focused on the potential of self-quantification technologies to both enforce and resist the structure of the capitalist working day in a digital age. Supported by Brigstow Institute Seedcorn Funding I have been collaborating with two artists, specialising respectively in performance and sound, on a prototype research method, staged performance and electronic soundscape using self-tracking devices including Fitbits, glucose monitors, heart rate monitors and phone apps to record, represent and better understand the movement of the body through the times and spaces of work and life. We are currently developing the prototype for wider use and thinking through the implications of performance as a means of not only presenting but critically interpreting and analysing quantitative data for transformative ends.

2) The politics and policy of work and economic futures This part of my work critically engages with increasingly influential and persuasive ideas around the futures of work and capitalist society and how these are operationalised and mobilised around in concrete political activity and po licymaking, specifically on social democratic and socialist left in and around the British Labour Party. This theme has four intersecting strands:

Postcapitalist politics and the post-work imaginary I am actively engaged in debates about the futures of work, particularly as a critic of the recent cross-spectrum political and policymaker uptake of ideas around a coming ‘post-work’ society made possible by automation. A recent Guardian article named me ‘perhaps the sharpest outside judge of the post-work movement’. An extended interview for a recent radio documentary summarises some of my thinking on the topic. I am currently writing a book with Ana Dinerstein, A World Beyond Work? Automation, Basic Income & Bad Utopias (Emerald 2019), and, with Jon Cruddas MP, I am co-editing a special issue of Political Quarterly on ‘The Politics of Postcapitalism’. I am also co-editor of a new online blog powered by Bristol University Press, Futures of Work. I am also conducting an ‘oral history of the future’ with workers at Avonmouth Docks for an event in the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science in November 2018.

Corbynism, the Labour Party and the left I am particularly interested in the uptake of ideas around postcapitalism and the post-work society in the Labour Party, labour movement and wider left in the UK. A major part of the context for this has been the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and the loose intellectual coalition of Corbynism constructed around his leadership. A book with Matt Bolton, Corbynism: A Critical Approach (Emerald 2018), attempts to systematically map the components of the Corbyn worldview, building on more specific treatments in single- and co-authored articles in British PoliticsEconomy & Society and Capital & Class as well as a series of media commentaries and op-eds. A particular concern of this research is the role of the nation and the state in the delineation of policy alternatives to the challenges confronting work and workers in a globalised capitalist economy, and the political consequences of certain theorisations of what capitalism is and how it works.

Universal Basic Income and its alternatives Within the context of a wider preoccupation with welfare policy a triple crisis of social democracy, social reproduction and the work society, art of my engagement with the new politics of post-work and postcapitalism centres on proposals for a Universal Basic Income as a means of containing the fallout from an age of technological unemployment. Much of my previous and current work on the topic stems from my participation in a Foundation for European Progressive Studies working group on the Basic Income. Following on from a contribution to Renewal: A Journal of Social Democracywhich drew a response from a leading proponent of the measure, I am currently working on a paper with Lorena Lombardozzi critically contrasting the UBI and ‘Universal Basic Services’ as divergent responses to the impasses of the Universal Credit. The latter I also look at in my ongoing research on the organising strategies of the self-employed. In common with an argument put forward in a recent papers for the Journal of Labor & Society and Capital & Class with Ana Dinerstein, this strand of my engagement with the UBI suggests that more autonomous civil society responses to the ‘crisis of social reproduction’ are required that do not stake everything on state provision.

Institutions, civil society and alternative forms of social reproduction Through my participation in the Labour in Transition International Interdisciplinary Network, and collaborations convened at an ESRC-funded 2016 workshop organised with Ana Dinerstein at the University of Bath, Marx in the Key of Hope, I maintain a broad interest in the empirical study of grassroots experiments in the reconfiguration of how goods and services are produced and consumed- particularly cooperatives for freelancers, precarious workers and the self-employed, but also innovations in the circular and sharing economies. This agenda explores contradictions around the development and institutionalisation of practical alternatives in the organisation of work, social reproduction and economic life. The focus on the challenges of replicating and legislating for these structures poses a critical counterweight to contemporary prospectuses of an imminent ‘postcapitalist’ or ‘post-work’ society achieved through technological development. This developing research agenda straddles of a number of projects, most prominently around the organisation of the self-employed, where cooperatives, mutuals and new means of securing subsistence and social reproduction play a major role. Bringing together scholars working in these areas, I was co-convenor of 'Organizing Resilience: In, Against and Beyond Capital', a stream at LAEMOS 2018 in Buenos Aires.

3) The theory and critique of work and economic futures This theme of my research centres on the reconsideration and renewal of Marx’s critique of political economy for the understanding of contemporary capitalism, testing revisionist approaches to Marxian value theory as a framework for relating what goes on in the workplace to what goes on in the market. This theme consists of four strands: 

New readings of Marx and their relevance to the study of work today The theoretical backbone of my work is the attempt to rethink Marx’s relevance for new times. At a time where revisionist approaches to Marx guide some of the most interesting thinking coming out of the mainstream and radical left, my work has taken forward the New Reading of Marx and Open Marxism as vital paths for the renewal of the Marxian inheritance in order to decode issues of contemporary concern, including the politics of the Labour Partythe creative industriesthe measurement of workthe basic income, and automation. This work comes together in a monograph, Critiquing Capitalism Today: New Ways to Read Marx (Palgrave 2017). I am currently working with Patrizia Zanoni on a paper promoting the approaches delineated in the book to management and organisation studies of value, class and labour. I was interviewed by LBC Radio about my work on Marx, a recording of which is available here.

Value, valuation and measurement Understanding value as a relationship between things rather than a property of them, my research has used Marx’s conceptualisation of value as a way of framing how what goes on in the workplace is conditioned by and determines what goes on in the marketplace. This is expressed most fully in my 2017 monograph on Marx and a series of articles contesting the idea of a ‘crisis in the law of value’ sparked by the advent of so-called ‘immaterial labour’ and the rise of the machines. Two ongoing projects centre on promoting the ‘value theory of labour’ to a growing body of scholars interested in value and valuation: a paper with Patrizia Zanoni on value in management and organisation studies, and, Value, a book I am writing with Lee Marshall for Polity’s Key Concepts in Political Economy series, which relates Marxian value theory to other perspectives such as the Sociology of Value and Evaluation and the American institutional school. I was also co-convenor of the stream 'Political Economy, Value and Valuation: Advancing Contemporary Critiques of Capitalism and Exploring Alternatives' at the 2017 International Critical Management Studies conference in Liverpool.

Critiques of capitalism and conspiracy theory One of the contributions of the New Reading of

Biography

I am a Lecturer in Management in the Department of Management at the School of Economics, Finance and Management, University of Bristol, where I also lead the Faculty Research Group for Perspectives on Work. I direct two undergraduate units at the University of Bristol: Global Business Environment and People, Work & Organisations.

I hold a PhD in Global Political Economy from the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Prior to joining the Department of Management, I taught social theory at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol and the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath. I also held research posts at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol; the Department of Arts and Cultural Industries, University of the West of England; and the Faculty of Philosophy, Erasmus University Rotterdam. I have also worked and collaborated with a number of research partners outside academia including Vodafone, Indycube, Unite the Union, Creative England, Tower Hamlets Council and Toynbee Hall. 

I am a co-editor of Futures of Work, an online blog published by Bristol University Press, and sit on the Associate Board of Work, Employment & Society. I have peer reviewed academic papers for a range of journals including Organization Studies; Organization: the Critical Journal of Organization, Theory and Society; Ephemera: theory and politics in organization; Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory; Interface: A journal for and about social movements; Globalizations and Tamara: Journal of Critical Organization Inquiry.

Teaching

Unit Director, EFIM10012 Global Business Environment 

Unit Director, EFIM20022 People, Work & Organisations

Supervisor, EFIMM0014 Dissertation

Keywords

  • Future of Work
  • Workplace Change
  • Measurement and Valuation
  • Theories of Value
  • Capitalism and Postcapitalism
  • Creative and Cultural Industries
  • Social Reproduction
  • Automation
  • Universal Basic Income
  • Labour Movements
  • Sociology of Work
  • Organisation Studies
  • Critical Management Studies
  • Global Political Economy
  • Labour Studies
  • Marx
  • Critical Theory

Memberships

Organisations

Department of Management

Other sites

Academic Departments/Role

Department of Management Research Interests

Selected publications

Read more >

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Courses

Dr Pitts currently teaches 2 courses:

Edit this profile If you are Dr Harry Pitts, you can edit this page. Login required.

PDF versionDownload PDF