For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Manufacturing Rate Busters: Computer Control and Social Relations in the Labour Process"

by Elliott, Christopher Shane; Long, Gary (2016)


Information technology is changing social relations in workplaces, perhaps faster than empirical and theoretical work can digest. We develop the concept ‘computer control’ to illustrate one dimension of change. Key features include unobtrusive, micro-level task control and an individualized experience of the labour process. We ask how social interaction occurs in a workplace characterized by computer control. Using participant observation, we examine interaction in Big Box, a computer-controlled grocery distribution facility. While a central computer orchestrates thousands of daily tasks, workers barely talk to execute the labour process. Interactions can occur within a ‘digital arena’, developed by management. Work becomes a game – engrossing workers in its outcomes – but simultaneously allowing management greater control over labour. We argue that management can construct virtual social spaces in the computer-controlled workplace. Information technology fully individualizes a repetitive task, while also offering a platform for reconstituting shared experiences of work. Implications are discussed.

Key Passage



Automation, Machines, Technology, Computer, Computerisation, Information Technology, Empirical Study, Digital Economy, Digital Labour


Resistance to/at Work, Labour Process, AI and Computerisation, Automation

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