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Labour Process Theory

Critical Approaches to Management lecture, Week 5

Gavin Maclean

on 16 December 2013

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Transcript of Labour Process Theory

Labour Process Theory
Critical Approaches to Management
Define labour process theory
Discuss the roots of Labour Process Theory in the work of Karl Marx
LPT’s revival in the 1970s through the “rediscovery” by Braverman
The central tenets of labour process analysis
Discuss contemporary study of the labour process
Gavin Maclean
PhD Student (2009 – Current)

Current Research:
“Art versus Commerce? Labour process analysis and the work of professional musicians”
Contemporary Study
Karl Marx and the Study of Work
From last week:
More to Marx than his reputation through communism
Had far more to say about capitalism – intended over 4 volumes of critique, only saw 1 published in his lifetime, 2 others posthumously published!
Theories continue to have a huge influence over the social sciences – including management studies!
What is the labour process?
For Marx, the labour process is what seperates human labour from the animals:
“A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in Imagination before he erects it in reality” (Marx, 1976 [1867], p116)
Human labour is imbued with human creativity and imagination!
100 years!
Harry Braverman, a craftsman by trade, reformulated Marx's arguments to account for 100 years of changes in work, technology and management in Labour & Monopoly Capitalism (1974)

Braverman was particularly mindful of the work of F.W. Taylor
Braverman & Taylorism
Think about Week 2's lecture.

What are the central concepts of Taylorism?
Braverman argues that scientific management is the biggest advance/most dominant approach to management of work under capitalism
Braverman (1974, p120-121) states that Taylorism rendered “conscious and systematic the formally unconscious tendency of capitalist production”
Braverman argues that scientific management is not a scientific approach to work but a “science of the management of others’ work under capitalist conditions” (Braverman, 1974: 90)
Finds that Human Relations Theory is equally exploitative
(Not unique to capitalism in the end)
Time and motion studies (leading to the Gilbreths)
Division of labour (Adam Smith)
Division of skill requirements (Charles Babbage)
Dismantling the power of the informal group
Attain a monopoly of knowledge of the labour process
Work is socially organised into classes:
Capital (or the bourgeoisie) : the owners of the means of production
(Middle class, or petite-bourgeoisie, who act as the agents of capital – management, small business owners)
Labour (or the proletariat): the working class
Marx said that capitalism came into being when labour became a trade-able commodity
Work is not traded, but rather potential to work
It is the employer's role to convert labour power into work
This leads to the “indeterminacy of labour” or the “wage/effort bargain”
Labour Power
Work under Capitalism
Subordination of work – while capital take labour as they find it initially, there is a pressure to increase control over the labour process
Real subordination of labour is key to extracting the surplus value from labour
Surplus Value
Work under capitalism is alienating:
Firstly, Marx said that workers are alienated from the product of their work because it is not owned by them.
Secondly, the act of work alienates the worker from their work
Thirdly, workers are alienated from their species being. This is where workers are unable to attain their full potential through their work and work is just a means to survive.
Fourthly, labourers are alienated from each other. The meaning here is that workers are seen as competition for the “means of existence” thus alienating workers from their fellow workers
Previously work under feudalism was largely self-directed by serfs and was to achieve their own subsistence – any surplus was sold on a market
Now workers work for a set rate as wage labourers – paid money and must interact with the market in order to achieve subsistence
Workers efforts are greater than needed to achieve their own subsistence – the surplus value is appropriated by the capitalist
Can you name some types of work that
could be seen as Taylorised?
Taylorism in Contemporary Work
Call centres
Software Development
Fast Food production
Clerical/Secretarial work
Rested on two key assertions:

Both of these relate to the “indeterminacy of labour”
Taylorism in Contemporary Work
Organisational deskilling
Based on Taylor’s principle to separate the conception of work from the execution.
Manager’s attempt to secure the “monopoly of knowledge” of the labour process
Division of labour/skills used to organise the labour process
Limited discretion and unskilled work
Cheapens the forms of labour
Increases the power of management
Examples: McDonald’s, Call Centres
Technical deskilling
Where automation removes discretion in the labour process
Technology replaces many of the skilled elements within the labour process
Examples: pub tills, automated call-routing in call centres, NHS 24
Criticism of de-skilling
Counters to de-skilling
Universal de-skilling largely inaccurate – no account of re-skilling, up-skilling or sector specific de-skilling.
Non-capitalist work not considered – public sector work?
Ignores the “subject” (agency, subjectivity, identity) - Treats workers as passive to managerial strategies, or understates willingness of workers to consent (Burawoy, 1979)
Management strategies toward labour process simplified, and management seen as all powerful.
Work is more complex these days and a rise of more educated workforce.
More managerial/political arguments argue that changes in the economy mean there is re-skilling and up-skilling rather than de-skilling.
Economy has changed, with more manual forms of labour replaced with service sector work
Work is more complex these days and a rise of more educated workforce.
Is it really up-skilling?
Oversimplies technological up-skilling – higher skills or just different skills?
Assumes that service sector leads to skilled jobs – fast-food industry?
Globalisation not really considered
Example One: Call Centre Work
Example Two: Music Production
How is work in call centres deskilled?
Automatic Call Distribution
Flowcharts (Gilbreths!)
Division of labour (sales, tech support, cust service)
How is work of musicians deskilled?

Is music production as a whole being deskilled?
Organisational deskilling:
Technical deskilling:
Is all music production being de-skilled?

Even the microphone! (Frith, 1986)
Braverman's critique inspired a revival of studies
into the labour process nicknamed "Bravermania"
Second-wave of LPT
Braverman died two years after publication of L&MC. But its impact was profound on the study of work:
Friedman (1977)
Edwards (1979)
Burawoy (1979)
Littler (1982)

Not all wholly positive!
Criticised for a neglect of subjective experience of work - resistance or consent (Burawoy, 1979)
Purposefully neglected, but Braverman didn't have a chance to respond to his critics
Braverman’s neglect of the subjective experience resulted in splits over the future direction of research:
Philosophical differences split the camp into two fields: post-structural vs. materialist (core) theorists
Post-structural approaches reflect the work of Foucault and Derrida and some Critical Theorists
Materialists tend to follow more Marxian or realist viewpoints (though splits occur between these two!)
Core Theory
Based around four propositions (Thompson, 1989; Thompson and Smith, 2001):
1) The labour process is the focus for analysis due to its relative autonomy to the wider economy
2) Employer’s need to constantly “revolutionise” the means of production in order to secure surplus
3) A control imperative exists in order to translate labour power into actual work and surplus
4) The dynamics of exploitation and control mean the employment relationship is characterised by “structured antagonism”
Core Theory
Concerned with new forms of labour power:
Not just manual labour, but mental, emotional and aesthetic forms of labour power
Concerned with new forms of control:
Not just command and control, but normative means of control such as team-working and culture management (more in the Control lecture)
Concerned with other industries:
Blue-collar work to white-collar – now concerned with creative industries
Current Criticisms: Gender
Current Criticisms
Has been gender blind in the past: criticised for being more concerned with male, blue collar workers (O’Doherty, 2001)
Women’s experiences of work tend to be shaped differently to men – service workers, emotional labourers (Hocshchild, 1983)
Women’s skills tend to be valued differently in the labour market
Modern LPA has removed much of its Marxist roots – links to overthrow of capitalism, the “full circuit of capital” and revolutionary potential
By focusing on the “relatively autonomous” labour process, LPA can fail to see the links between sectors and wider economy.
So what’s the point?
What's the point?
Critical consideration of the experience of work is essential. If work isn’t studied, it can’t be improved
Work is inherently an asymmetrical relationship: Employer’s are naturally seeking more for less, and employee’s vice versa
Work is central to who we are – 8 hour work, 8 hour play, 8 sleep. Working age and retirement are major milestones
Labour process analysis continues to offer a framework for the dynamics of exploitation, control, consent and resistance at work
Core Theory
Thompson (1989) offered a comprehensive summary of the labour process debate from Marx - 1989
Attempted to identify from the literature the "empirically consistent" features of the labour process
Attempts to move LPA on from Marxian terms such as theory of value, revolutionary potential
Also views deskilling as unsupported as a key feature of the capitalist labour process
Thom Yorke
Recommended Reading
Bolton, S.C. (2005) Emotion Management in the Workplace. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.
Bolton, S. and Houlihan, M. (2009), “Are we having fun yet? A consideration of workplace fun and engagement”, Employee Relations, Vol. 31, No. 6, pp. 556-568.
Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Burawoy, M. (1979) Manufacturing Consent: Changes in the Labor Process under Monopoly Capitalism. London: University of Chicago.
Delbridge, R. (1995) "Surviving JIT: Control and resistance in a Japanese transplant" Journal of Management Studies. 32 (5) pp.803-817.
Edwards, R. (1979) Contested Terrain. New York: Basic Books.
Findlay, P., Marks, A., McKinlay, A. and Thompson, P. (2000), “In search of perfect people: Teamwork and teamplayers in the Scottish spirits industry”, Human Relations, Vol. 53, No. 12, pp. 1549-1574.
Friedman, A. (1977) Industry and Labour: Class Struggle and Labour at Work and Monopoly Capitalism. London: Macmillan.
Hochschild A. R. (1983). The Managed Heart. Berkeley: University of California Press
Marx, K. (1976) Capital. Vol. 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Taylor, P. and Bain, P. (2003) "‘Subterranean worksick blues’: Humour as subversion in two call centres" Organization Studies. 24 (9) pp.1487-1509.
Taylor, S. (1998) ‘Emotional Labour and the New Workplace’, in P. Thompson and C. Warhurst (eds), Workplaces of the Future, pp. 84–103. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Thompson, P. (1989) The Nature of Work: An Introduction to the Debates on the Labour Process. 2nd ed. London: Macmillan.
Thompson, P. and Ackroyd, S. (1995) "All quiet on the workplace front? A critique of the recent trends in British industrial sociology" Sociology. 29 (4) pp.610-633.
Thompson, P. and McHugh, D. (2009) Work Organizations, 4th ed. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Thompson, P., Smith, C. (2010) Working Life: Renewing Labour Process Analysis, Palgrave Press.
What are your experiences from work?
Used to correct vocal errors
X-Factor controversy
Eventually used to "make" music:
Cher, T-Pain, Hot Chip
Braverman on Taylorism
For Braverman, the key to Scientific management is basedon three principles:
“Thus, if the first principle is the gathering together and development of knowledge of the labour process, and the second is the concentration of this knowledge as the exclusive preserve of management - together with its converse, the absence of such knowledge among workers - then the third step is the use of this monopoly of knowledge to control each step of the labour process and its mode of execution” (Braverman, 1974, p119).
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