Work and technology (KIT)

Since industrialization, the relationship between technical change and labor structures has been highly complex, and is still being discussed and interpreted today. The works of Karl Marx and other economists who have studied the conditions of industrial labor under the influence of mechanical engineering still have a great influence on the debate about the effects of technology on work structures. Marx, for example, understood technology as a "productive force" that comprises not only advances in product and process development but also the state of technical knowledge, the qualification of workers, and the degree of division and organization of work.

With regard to the impacts of technology on employment in modern industrialized countries, this description is still relevant today, but has been refined and extended by the development of new technologies and their penetration into different societal sectors. The use of information and communication technologies, for example, has had an enormous impact not only on the reorganization of the service sector; the worldwide integration of technical systems (e.g. in production, logistics, marketing, etc.) has also created new forms of global value chains, leading to substantial changes in the mode of work, worldwide. Today, these changes can no longer be explained by a causal model like, e.g., 'technology as a productive force', but new theoretical approaches are required to integrate the technological dimension into the new globalization debate, into the long tradition of organizational sociology, and into the debate about "subjectivization" of work. Moreover, current trends like the fragmentation of work and the constantly rising demand of flexibilization of working conditions indicate the necessity to think about normative and ethical approaches to future working environments.

For this reason, current works on work and technology focus on the functional character of technology from at least three analytical perspectives: (a) technology as a substitution for work, (b) technology as an objectification of work, and (c) technology as a socialization of work. Singular aspects of technologies in the work process which bring about new developments (e.g. to new technologies in health care) can be examined in the framework of technology assessment. The technological impacts of these developments in turn are integrated into a conceptual re-evaluation of the relationship between work and technology.