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Materiale didattico per il seminario di Social Change and Economic Life in Britain del professor Roger Penn, all'interno del quale sono affrontati i seguenti argomenti: il dibattito sullo "Skilled Work"; il pensiero di Braverman e la sua teoria al riguardo; la Compensatory Theory of Skill.

Esame di Social Change and Economic Life in Britain docente Prof. R. Penn



The Debate about Skilled


Professor Roger Penn

University of Bologna


Two Diametrically Opposed Theories

of Trajectories in Skilled Work

• The Marxist Theory of Deskilling:

Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital


• The Skilling Thesis associated with

Human Capital Theory: D. Bell

The Coming of Post-Industrial Society

• Both published in the same year [1974]

• No references in common

Deskilling: The Context for


• Braverman associated with Monthly Review journal –

founded in 1949 by Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman

• An influential journal but little impact on American


• Best known product of this school was Baran and

Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital (1966). Indeed,

Braverman’s analysis of work is predicated theoretically

upon Baran and Sweezy’s analysis of Monopoly Capital

[ie oligopolistic, ‘organized’ capitalism

• After mid-1960s increasing interest in neo-Marxism in

the USA – partly result of social conflicts evident in

America in late 1960s

• These events threw doubt of the utility of the structural-

functionalist ‘consensus’ paradigm

The Context for Braverman

• The 1970s witnessed the re-emergence of

radical political economy in both the USA and

Western Europe

• Produced the Union of Radical Political

Economists and the journal Insurgent Sociologist

in USA and wide array of groups and journals in

Western Europe, of which the most well known

were New Left Review, Capital and Class and

Economy and Society

The Context for Braverman

• In the late 1960s in the USA two sets of ideas had

emerged within the social sciences which formed the

concepts against which Braverman reacted

• 1. H. Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man: a German social

philosopher and member of the Frankfurt school who

argued that the affluence generated by advanced

capitalism had produced a mass-consumer culture that

incorporated the working class into such societies

• Accordingly, the working class was no longer a

revolutionary class and the central foci of radical

transformation lie with those groups marginalized by the

capitalist process such as Blacks & Hispanics, Students

and Peasants in the developing world

• For Marcuse advanced capitalism had solved the

economic contradictions held to be central to it by Marx:

this was a pessimistic view of the working class

The Context for Braverman

• 2. Human Capital Theory [Chicago

School]: exponents include Shultz &


• Post-Industrial Society

• Δ shift from Manufacturing Services

• Δ shift from Manual Nonmanual

• Δ Expansion of Education.

The Context for Braverman

• Their central thesis was that technical change was

eradicating physical/manual work, particularly in

manufacturing industry, and was causing the

disappearance of the traditional working class.

• The rationale behind this theory was spelt out most

clearly in Fuchs’s Service Economy.

• The idea was that technical change was eliminating

much routine manual work as a result of the need for

enhanced levels of training and specialist expertise.

• There is a growing need for a technologically

sophisticated workforce. (cf. R. Blauner Alienation and

Freedom and exponents of the ‘new’ working class like

A. Gorz and S. Mallet).

The Context for Braverman

• These secular trends were seen as eliminating routine,

labouring, manual jobs and generating more skilled,

‘knowledgeable’ positions within industry.

• Furthermore, the increasing intensity of capital in the

manufacturing sector also led to increasing employment

in the service sector.

• The image was one of increasing numbers of teachers,

doctors and related service sector jobs, which also led

towards an increasingly ‘middle class’ society.

• These ideas were closely entwined with notions of

‘embourgeoisement’, ‘the end of ideology’ and the

growth of ‘middle class society’.

Braverman’s Theory

• Braverman took exception to both these views

about the modern working class.

• His book attempts to show that an increasing

proportion of jobs – whether nominally manual

working class or in the service sector – were

becoming more and more akin to classic

proletarian jobs, (i.e. more and more degraded,

subdivided, simplified, routinized, alienating or

straightforwardly boring).

Braverman’s Theory

• Furthermore, Braveman argued that the

affluence that Marcuse made so much of

was little more than the froth on the

surface of capitalist societies

• Indeed, within the labour process of

advanced capitalist societies, the same

factors identified by Marx as operative in

the mid-19th century equally pertinent in

the 1970s in the USA.

Braverman’s Theory

• Braverman argued that the labour process

(process of production whereby labour

power is applied to raw materials and

machinery to produce commodities) in

advanced capitalist economies is

determined by capitalist social relations

and is not the result of technical

/organizational factors.

Braverman’s Assumptions I

• That labour creates all value;

• That social relations not technical relations

determine the conditions of work.

• According to Braverman, labour processes

reflect, in their organization, the antagonistic

relations inherent in capitalist societies.

• In particular, managers cannot rely on labour to

work efficiently of its own accord and therefore

managers look to maximize their control over

the labour process and minimize the autonomy

of workers.

Braverman’s Assumptions II

• Within Braverman’s model capital needs to

dominate the labour process and weaken the

ability of workers to resist.

• Braverman placed considerable emphasis on

the role of Scientific Management (Taylorism)

as a quintessential method of achieving this.

• In particular, Scientific Management involved

the subdivision of tasks and the establishment of

new technologies that were less dependent

upon worker’s craft skills.

Braverman’s Assumptions III

• Braverman suggested that both manual and non-manual

work were being deskilled in his analyses of craft work

(chapter nine) and clerical work (chapter fifteen).

• Consequently, for Braverman, advanced capitalism is

producing a proletarianization of the workforces of such


• This is a vindication of Marx’s earlier arguments for

deskilling and proletarianization under conditions of

competitive capitalism and for the associated idea that

labour increasingly takes on the central characteristics of

‘pure’ labour [ie it becomes an interchangeable


Braverman’s Assumptions IV

• Braverman argued strongly that

Taylorism/Scientific Management embodies

three fundamental principles of modern


• The labour process must be made

completely independent of the autonomy,

creativity and ability of the individual worker

• There must be a total divorce of mental and

manual labour – “ ‘the separation of

conception from execution’.

• Capitalists (management) must assume

control over every step of the labour process

What are the Manifestations of


• Decline in craftsmen

• Increasing separation of mental and

physical labour

• Decline in levels of training

• Increase in the interchangeability of labour




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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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