For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Will we work in twenty-first century capitalism? A critique of the fourth industrial revolution literature"

by Morgan, Jamie (2019)


The fourth industrial revolution has become a prominent concept and imminent technological change a major issue. Facets are everyone?s concern but currently no one?s ultimate responsibility (perhaps a little like financial stability before the global financial crisis). In this paper, we argue that the future is being shaped now by the way the fourth industrial revolution is being positioned. Whilst no one has set out to argue for or defend technological determinism, anxiety combined with passivity and complacency are being produced in the context of a quasi-determinism. The contingent quantification of the future with regard to the potential for job displacement provides an influential source of authority for this position. A background narrative of ?the future is coming, so you better get used to it? is being disseminated. This favours a capitalism that may ?deny work to the many? perspective rather than a more fundamental rethink that encompasses change that may liberate the many from work. This, in turn, positions workers and responsibility for future employment, reducing the urgency of calls for wider societal preparation. Public understanding and policy are thus affected and along with them the future of work.

Key Passage

There is thus an issue of realizing the future and what form that future reality will really take. Futurists have adopted more and less positive accounts.10 The fourth industrial revolution too, includes a range of approaches. As we shall argue, however, there are significant commonalities and limits to the range. The important point at this stage is that positions are not irrelevant for how the future becomes the present, since they affect how the future will be shaped from the present. Clearly, this applies also to work and the future of work is a major focus of fourth industrial revolution literature. If the confluence of new technologies affect any-and-all aspects of society and the economy, then they have the potential to affect any-and-all aspects of work. Analytically this has fallen into three categories: (1) the displacement of workers by combinations of the technology, (2) changes to existing types of work, as the requirements of work modify to accommodate the new technology (what is termed a complementary rather than displacement effect), and (3) the creation of entirely new forms of work. A primary focus, however, has been that, since the convergent timeline is 2030 for a fundamental restructuring, it is possible that the rate of change of technology use in work could be so rapid and the dissemination of technologies so pervasive, that displacement dominates (there is more 1 than 2 and 3), creating a near future of mass technological unemployment. (p.376)


Post-Work, The Future Of Work, Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industrial Revolution, Automation, Technology, The Future Of Work, Production, Post-Work


Technology, Employment, Fourth Industrial Revolution, Automation

Links to Reference



How to contribute.