Technology and the Transformation of White-Collar Work

By Robert E. Kraut | Go to book overview

6 Computers and the Automation of Work

Philip Kraft Department of Sociology, State University of New York at Binghamton and Center for Survey Research University of Massachusetts-Boston


ABSTRACT

Although programmers often are thought of as the prototypical knowledge worker in the post-industrial society, this chapter argues that programmers and other workers in the software field are caught up in traditional labor processes and social relations. Computers have replicated the relations of the shop floor, not transformed them. It is not the technological content of the work, but the differences between manager and managed, between conception and execution, and between men and women that characterize software work. The people who do the programming are not the ones who decide what to program or what machines to buy or languages to program in. Software work has become less skilled as programmers are subject to efforts to simplify and standardize their work. Although programmers often are thought of as professionals who are rewarded for their technical expertise, managers of programmers, who are generalists, are paid far more. And software as an occupation has replicated traditional occupational status and reward hierarchies, in which women do more routine and more repetitive work and are paid less than men regardless of the work that they do.

The computerization of work is usually described as a revolution, not only in the way we make things, but in the structure of the larger society. I take another position: Although computer technology is dramatic, its application is not. The computer is a revolutionary tool that will have largely conventional effects in both the workplace and in the society as a whole. In particular, the computer will help reproduce, not transform, traditional relations between manager and managed, between those who design and plan and those who carry out the designs and plans of others, between those who have jobs in

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