Manufacturing Knowledge: Technology, Culture, and Social Inequality at Work

Manufacturing Knowledge: Technology, Culture, and Social Inequality at Work

Steven Vallas (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-878289-86-5.ch014
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Abstract

Research on the restructuring of work has tended to neglect the autonomous effects that symbolic or cultural influences can have on the utilization of new technologies. This article draws on fieldwork conducted in three pulp and paper mills to explore the symbolic boundaries that occupational groups bring to bear on the process of workplace automation. As sophisticated technologies and management methods were introduced, process engineers engaged in subtle yet important efforts to portray manual workers’ knowledge in derisive terms. Such boundary work led managers to institute credential barriers that restricted manual workers’ opportunities, eventually enabling engineers to gain exclusive control over analytic functions as their own “natural” domain. The study suggests that symbolic representations can have powerful consequences for the restructuring of work, reproducing social inequalities even when new technologies render them unnecessary.

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