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
» 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
• Skills developed as different cabling
• 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
• 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
• 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
• Had there been any changes in the monitoring of
telephone engineers? These could have included:
– two-way radios
– daily norms for fault rectification
• 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
• 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
• Bifurcation of maintenance function
• Business Customers (most profitable)
• Domestic Customers
• Creation of new Business Services
Division for Maintenance.
Technical Change: Local
• Fibre Optic Cabling Fewer Joints
• Traditional Joints Rewrapped in Pre-Shrunk
Sleeves that were highly resistant to damp.
• Test Equipment more accurate
• Easier access to man-holes
• Crimps more robust and more water resistant
• Overall expansion of skills required: this was
mainly the result of different generations of
cabling and jointing [lead plug, epoxy resin
and fibre optic joints]
Technical Change: Business
• Elite group – special clothing, take
vehicles home at night, not required
to sign in at exchange
• Highly autonomous workers
• Much of their work had been
routinized by advent of modular
electronic business exchanges
+1 anno fa
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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