Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

"Even a Woman Can Do This Job Now": Reflections on Technological Changes and Male Subcultures in the Modern Factory

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

"Even a Woman Can Do This Job Now": Reflections on Technological Changes and Male Subcultures in the Modern Factory

Article excerpt

Using statistical and interview data of male workers at two newsprint paper manufacturing companies, this article compares workplace subcultures in two different technological settings--a high-tech, information-rich and a low-tech, physically demanding work environment. Three scales of male workers' behaviors, their physicality, immediacy, and sociality, are employed to compare statistically the two workplaces. The results are enriched by interview data from workers at the high-tech paper mill. The analysis and interpretation of the results suggest male subcultures in the modern factory differ from those in more traditional factories in some of the characteristics known as its physicality. However, workers at both paper mills continue to use all their senses in order to better "understand" the limits/possibilities of the production technologies. A comparison of workers reveals they also share other behavioral characteristics. The article concludes with a brief discussion of the continuation of male dominance in the modern factory's subcultures.

The quotation in this paper's title comes from a male factory worker in a high-tech paper mill and was the source of inspiration for the thoughts contained herein. This study explores the impact of new production technologies on the work experiences of male factory workers by comparing their responses with those from male workers organized by the same trade union and employed by the same company but working in a mass-production paper mill.

In this article, I take up the notion that only by comparing the character of work organized by two different production technologies can we further our understanding of the nature of the information-rich work environments in a modern factory. Relying on comparative data from a survey of male employees at two different paper mills and interviews with male workers at a computer-mediated plant, this paper examines the social milieu sustaining male subcultures in a modern factory by delineating what aspects of work have been redefined and which ones are comparable to those in a mass-production facility. Designating the behaviours that both complement and separate workers in computer-mediated workplaces from men working in mass-production plants will advance our understanding of distinctive social milieus characteristic of modern factories from which `new' male worker subcultures are forged.

WHAT IS IT LIKE FOR MEN WORKING IN THE MODERN FACTORY?

Paid employment in modem factories means working in hierarchical organizations. These organizations are based not only on a structure and culture of power and resistance (see Collinson, 1992; Rouse & Fleising, 1995) but also contain, at the bottom of the company ladder, predominantly male worker subcultures. Understandably, these subcultures are just as apt to reproduce shop-floor divisions and the organizational hierarchy as they can be the basis of resistance and struggle. More important for our discussion is the mutable context of shop-floor male subcultures occasioned by new information and communications technologies (ICTs). In other words, whatever is new about factory work should displace old identities of machismo with new ones.

ENCOUNTERING MALE SUBCULTURES IN MASS-PRODUCTION (OLD) FACTORIES

The mundane attributes of mass-production factory jobs helped incubate distinctive shop-floor male subcultures. A number of sociologists studied the physical nature of craft and industrial skills and its relationship to the occurrence and character of male-dominant subcultures in mass-production factories.

To begin, Shoshana Zuboff (1984) defines tasks in non-computer-mediated enterprises (or mass-production factories) as requiring action-centered skills. They include abilities that are organized in such a way that employees use their senses of feeling, smelling, touching, seeing, and tasting to act on materials and equipment. They come to learn how industrial machines "think," that is, when and how to respond to a variety of concrete cues--noises, sights, and smells--that emanate from "their" machines. …

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