For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Advanced Technology and Worker Alienation: Comments on the Blauner/Marxism Debate"

by Vallas, Steven Peter; Yarrow, Michael (1987)


This article critically examines a study of work and technology that recently appeared in Work and Occupations in order to identify a series of methodological and theoretical issues that confront researchers in the field. The study in question is Hull, Friedman and Rogers's study on the impact of advanced technology in both the organization and the experience of blue collar work. This article's findings would appear to cast serious doubt on Marxist predictions of deskilling and heightened alienation. Careful examination of their study, however, reveals several important limitations that we feel command attention. These relate to the authors' use of job satisfaction indicators to measure Marx's concept of alienation; their tendency to abstract from the social context of labor/management relations within which technologies are introduced; and finally, their uncritical acceptance of technological determinism, which places technology `above' or beyond societal influence. We find that these and other problems simultaneously undermine the validity of their analysis, while closing off dialogue with the theoretical perspective that Hull et al. would debunk. We suggest that the outcome of technological change is approached more fruitfully as an indeterminate process shaped by the prevailing relations between workers and management, as well as among the workers themselves.


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