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Compensatory Theory of Skill:

Overall Orientation I

• Industrial capitalist society involves a structured

conflict between capital and labour.

• This conflict is fundamentally asymmetric because of

the essential characteristic of industrial capitalism: the

separation of the producer from the means of production

as a result of capitalist ownership rights.

• These conflicts take various forms. The two most central

involve conflicts over wages (the distribution of the

surplus) and the organisation of the division of labour

(the 'managerial prerogative').

Compensatory Theory of Skill:

Overall Orientation II

• Such conflicts over wages and the managerial

prerogative take place within variable structures. One

key element in these variable structures of asymmetric

conflict is the nature and structure of the spatial

organisation of employers and employees.

• These conflicts over wages and over authority relations

are both economic and normative. Issues of legitimacy

are central to both sets of relationships.

• A major factor in the actual relationship between

employers and employees is the pattern of collective

organisation of both parties. Such collective

organisation can vary both spatially and historically.

Compensatory Theory of Skill:

Overall Orientation III

• The theory was developed at Lancaster

University during the 1970s and 1980s

• Key publications included:

• Skilled Workers in the Class Structure,

Cambridge University Press, 1985.

• Class, Power and Technology, Polity Press,


• Skill and Occupational Change, Oxford

University Press, 1994.

• Articles listed in Appendix A

Trends in Skilled Work: 3 Models


An Aside: Status Ambiguities

within the Division of Labour

• Grounded in the Occupational Sociology of the

Chicago School [Symbolic Interactionism].

– E. Hughes Men and their Work (1958) especially

chapter 3 Work and the Self and chapter 9 The

Making of a Physician.

– H Becker Boys in White (1961).

– R Gold ‘Janitors vs. Tenants: a Status-Income

Dilemma’, American Journal of Sociology, LVII,


– G Fine Kitchens (1996)

Hughes and his Colleagues IN THE

Chicago School Emphasized:

– Centrality of work for identity

– This is both external and internal

– ‘dirty work . . . is formed in all occupations’ and

leads to feelings of shame and ‘status pain’.

» 1970s: Hierarchy of Telephone

Maintenance Work

» Installation of phones and fault-finding and

repairs inside homes

» Outside fault-finding and repairs

» Laying down main cables/erection of

telephone poles and wiring.

- Hierarchy = function of pleasantness and

cleanliness and possibilities of interaction

with the public

Hughes and his Colleagues in the

Chicago School Emphasized:

• Centrality of work for identity

• This is both external and internal

• ‘Dirty work….is formed in all occupations’

and leads to feelings of shame and ‘status

pain’. The Project I

• A comparison of the skills of the telephone

technician over a period of 20 years.

• Benchmark was personal experience in the

occupation 20 years before.

• Major source was personal observations and

memories [akin to oral history].

• These were tri-angulated with tape- recorded

open- ended, semi- structured interviews with

older, experienced technicians.

The Project II

• Observations and interviews in the field

with telephone technicians 20 years on.

• These were supplemented by a literature

review and the collection of data on the

changing organizational structure of BT

[the telephone company].

Telephone Maintenance Workers

in the Early 1970s I

• Highly skilled workers who required

extensive training and continuous


• Training conceptually complex and

technologically sophisticated.

• Skills developed as different cabling

systems introduced.

• Left very much on their own to perform

maintenance work [Responsible


Telephone Maintenance Workers

in the Early 1970s II

• Mostly unsupervised. Assumed to take

care in their work, with a considerable

degree of commitment to performing a

‘good job’.

• Very similar to other Skilled Workers [see

Penn Skilled Workers in the Class

Structure, 1985 and Class, Power and

Technology, 1990 especially chapter 6

‘Socialization into Skilled Identities’].

• Both of these are on my webpage in pdf


Telephone Maintenance Workers in

the Early 1970s: Hierarchy of Work

• In the 1970s there had been a clear hierarchy

within telephone maintenance work

1. Installation of phones and fault-finding inside


2. Outside fault-finding and repairs

3. Laying down main cables/erection of

telephone poles and wiring

• The hierarchy was a function of the

pleasantness and cleanliness + possibilities of

interaction with the public.

Cleanliness: A Central Ambiguity I

• As skilled manual workers, telephone

maintenance workers were akin to plumbers,

electricians, pipefitters and carpenters [they

wear overalls, get dirty on occasions and were


• As technicians they read diagrams and

repaired fualts within a complex and esoteric

technological environment

• As technicians they would come to work in light-

coloured trousers, ordinary shoes and summery


Cleanliness: A Central Ambiguity II

• Receive details of fault.

• Go to exchange and assess situation.

• Narrow down fault: enter the system

[either via a junction point or by digging a

hole in the ground].

• Only with physical labour of this kind

(often very dirty) would they don their

overalls and boots.

• They would never enter a home, business,

pub or café wearing such clothing but

would change back into their original


Fault-Finding: A Complex Set of


• Technical: Understand the System and

the Diagnostic Equipment. Training

Courses. Different generations of cabling:

lead to fibre optic.

• Experience: Knowledge of the

underground and over ground system of


• Social: Ability to network with other

telephone maintenance workers about the

likely factors at work with difficult faults.

Attitudes to Management

• Traditional wariness of skilled manual workers.

• Responsible autonomy: a pattern of compromise

between management and telephone engineers

involving a degree of ‘indulgence’ [cf A.

Gouldner Wildcat Strike, 1955] coupled with

periodic tightening up.

• Telephone engineers expected to be left alone

but also recognized a commitment to perform a

certain amount of work.

Research Questions in 1989 I

• What had been the effects of technical changes upon the

job skills of telephone maintenance engineers since the

early 1970s?

• Had there been any changes in the monitoring of

telephone engineers? These could have included:

– two-way radios

– daily norms for fault rectification

– payment-by-results

• What effects had the privatisation of British Telecom

had on managerial styles, work content and traditional

patterns of indulgence?

Research Questions in 1989 II

• What had happened to the ambiguous status of

telephone engineers with one foot on either side of the

manual-nonmanual divide?

• How far was the picture of deskilling portrayed by

Braverman and by Martin an accurate description of the

trajectory of skilled activities within telecommunications?

• Null Hypothesis: Nothing much had changed [If so,

could be the result of a variety of factors: nature of the

work per se/effective monopoly supplier




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+1 anno fa

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea magistrale in relazioni internazionali
Docente: Penn Roger
Università: Bologna - Unibo
A.A.: 2009-2010

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Social Change and Economic Life in Britain e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Bologna - Unibo o del prof Penn Roger.

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