Structures of subcontracting: Work organisation, control, and labour in the Swedish building sector

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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The organisation of work in the Swedish building sector is changing due to increased subcontracting and the adoption of construction management. In this study, construction management refers to a specific subcontracting regime, in which contractors externalise all parts of the production process and organise work through subcontractors. Echoing global trends of cost-cutting, this externalisation between Swedish contractors and subcontractors attempts to achieve organisational flexibility by reducing the number of directly employed craftsmen. Such trends have accelerated in the past two decades as a result of the expansion of the EU-single market and the inclusion of new member states from mainly Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in 2004 and 2007.
This study builds upon theories of the sociology of work and sets out to analyse the current subcontracting regime of construction management from a labour process perspective. Based on a case study research design with interviews and visits to construction sites, the organisation of work in two building companies is analysed with the aim of exploring various manifestations of organisational change visible through dis-integrated organisational structures contingent on subcontracting. The analysis shows that contractors and subcontractors engage in a variety of contractual agreements structured around a balancing of price, quality, and acquaintance; but that the access to cheap labour in the EU-labour market incentivises firms to engage to a further extent in contractual agreements based on price than in previous practice. A key finding in this thesis is the use of masked staffing in the organisation of work. Masked staffing is a novel and previously unconceptualised form of subcontracting, which elaborates on how subcontracting arrangements reliant upon external business relations with trade-specialists build on principles of staffing rather than those of actual subcontracting. Rather than the externalisation of managerial control over labour, which is the case in different forms of subcontracting, direct control over labour remains with the general contractor in masked staffing. Consequently, I demonstrate that rather than subcontractors, firms contracted on principles of masked staffing act simply as unauthorised staffing agencies involved in the brokering of (cheap) labour.
To conclude, this thesis shows how the current subcontracting regime of construction management restructures the organisational architectonic of work in the Swedish building sector. Such restructuring is indicative of the plethora of possibilities for contractors and subcontractors alike, in terms of both shifting costs and responsibilities; moreover, it reveals tensions and contradictions in the labour process, including the changing character of contemporary construction work.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Sociology
  • Eldén, Sara, Supervisor
  • Mathieu, Christopher, Assistant supervisor
Award date2022 Feb 11
ISBN (Print)978-91-8039-108-5
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-8039-107-8
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Jan 10

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2022-02-11
Time: 10:00
Place: Edens hörsal, Allhelgona kyrkogata 14, Lund.
External reviewer(s)
Name: Stewart, Paul
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Grenoble Ecole de Management

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

Free keywords

  • work organisation
  • control
  • subcontracting
  • masked staffing
  • labour process


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