In the Service of Public Goods: Actors, Institutions, Practices

(Last modified October 2010)

At the center of this empirical study are ongoing changes at the workplace for employees in the health care sector (municipal hospitals), post office services, and civil administration in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In contrast to commonly held views, work in the public service sector has undergone significant transformation in recent decades, due mainly to new organizational concepts, privatization, and rationalization. The study retraces these shifts from the perspective of employees, analyzing their interpretations and how they deal with these developments.

Empirical work will be conducted around Lake Constance, a culturally and economically more or less homogenous region, where the borders of these three countries and their divergent traditions in public administration and public service converge. This study is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft [German Research Foundation] and is a collaborative effort with research teams from the Sociological Seminar, University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), and the Forschungs- und Beratungsstelle Arbeitswelt [Working Life Research Center] in Vienna. The first phase of work involved secondary analyses of public health care, postal services, and municipal administration in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

In the main segment of the project, researchers will interview some 160 employees in these three sectors to explore their employment biographies, changes in work routines and organization, professional identity, and personal work ethics. Staff members from all three countries will implement an innovative approach to this comparative study by working together in mixed teams to conduct and interpret these biographical interviews.