For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"New Technology, Job Content, and Worker Alienation: A Test of Two Rival Perspectives"

by Vallas, Steven Peter (1988)


The introduction of new technologies into the advanced capitalist work process continues to provoke sharp theoretical debate. While mainstream theories predict an upgrading of work content, recent Marxist analyses argue that workplace automation tends to deepen the subordination of the worker beneath the means of production. This study aims to adjudicate between these rival perspectives. The analysis centers upon the communications industry in the United States, a highly automated ?knowledge? industry rapidly undergoing the transition to competitive market conditions. Official statistics on the changing occupational structure of this industry, combined with survey data on job content, indicate the existence of an upgrading effect between 1950 and 1980. In more recent years, however, the onset of a deskilling trend is found: The more automated the workplace, the less autonomous and conceptually demanding the job tends to be. Further analysis suggests that workplace automation differentially affects the various occupational categories.


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