Technology and the Transformation of White-Collar Work

By Robert E. Kraut | Go to book overview

5 Technology and the Transformation of Clerical Work

Roslyn L. Feldberg Massachusetts Nurses Association

Evelyn Nakano Glenn Florida State University


ABSTRACT

This chapter analyses the impact of technology on the organization of work and on employment prospects from both a historical and a feminist perspective. The body of the chapter was written in 1979--five years before the conference that gave rise to this book. The authors chose to present this work in its original form followed by an addendum. The original piece offers an "historic" perspective on a contemporary debate, emphasizing both the sexist and especially the managerial bias in earlier research. The addendum discusses how the debate is being addressed at present and the questions still outstanding. In particular, it indicates how the general increase in feminist scholarship has led to new concerns, concerns that are reflected throughout this book. The authors see the shifts and continuities in the debate as highlighting the way transformations of clerical work create new opportunities for and new constraints on the employment of women from varied races, ages, and educational backgrounds.

With the introduction of a new type of automated technology into the post- World War II office, a debate began about the probable impacts of that technology on the organization of work, and on prospects for employment. Large issues were debated: the quality of work, the transformation of the occupational structure, the efficiency and productivity of the office, and the extent of employment/displacement among office workers. On each issue, opposing claims were advanced. Taken together, these claims comprise two positions: the exuberant technologists and the skeptical critics.

Exuberant technologists viewed the new technology as a liberating force that would free the office and the larger society from long-standing problems.

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