The purpose of this chapter is to provide an overview of the meaning of ‘conflict’ together with some tools of analysis. The word ‘conflict’ has two distinct senses, namely, underlying antagonisms or clashes of interests, and concrete actions such as strikes. This edited collection addresses primarily the latter, and our purpose here is not to rehearse theory on the former, though we do need to make one fundamental point (in the first section below). The aim, rather, is to lay out some themes in the understanding of conflict in its concrete sense and to suggest ways of tracing it back to more fundamental principles. To underline the focus on the concrete, we use the word contestation. This chapter performs five tasks. First, it defines the focus in terms of contestation. Second, it suggests one way to think about changing patterns of contestation, namely, the idea that it can have alternative forms. Third, it looks at another idea, that of shifts geographically and how we might think of these shifts in terms of the strategies of key actors. Fourth, it turns to the level of the workplace to consider some of the causal influences on patterns of contest. Finally, it illustrates these influences through the example of call centres. Tying these themes together is the idea of locating contestation in underlying causal processes within the organization of work.
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