LBST 308-3 The Labour Process: Work and Technological Change
Common-sense descriptions assume that the labour process and related technologies are neutral and progressive: innovation in the workplace is said to benefit the larger part of humanity in the long term. While in some ways an attractive narrative, such a reading fails to account for the complexities and politics of technological change in capitalist production. This course seeks to demystify such common-sense understandings by investigating the salient elements of society that influence technical change in the labour process.
We begin the course by identifying some of the tendencies that differentiate capitalism from previous and alternative modes of production, exploring how these tendencies affect the labour process. From agrarian capitalism to emerging industrial society to twentieth century manufacturing, our focus in the first three-quarters of the course will be on machinery, large-scale industry, industrial labour processes, and the social and economic forces driving developments in these aspects of production. The political and economic implications of new manufacturing technologies and the scientific management of workers—or Taylorism—will also be explored, as will examples of labour’s resistance to technological change. The course will conclude with analysis of new and emerging forms of labour process, related to rapid growth in the digital networks that support contemporary capitalism. Despite differences between industrial and digital work, students will consistently treat technology and the labour process as sites of social struggle.
Students are expected to analyze labour process and related technology as outcomes of history and conflicting social interests.
READING SCHEDULE (WEEKLY READINGS WILL BE AVAILABLE TO STUDENTS THROUGH THE LIBRARY WEB PORTAL OR PROVIDED THROUGH CANVAS):
Week 1 (12 September 2016): Introduction and Housekeeping
Week 2 (19 September 2016): The Imperative of Improvement and the Origins of Capitalism
Wood, Ellen Meiksins. “The Agrarian Origin of Capitalism.” In The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, 95 – 121. Rev. and expanded ed. London: Verso, 2002.
Braverman, Harry. “Labor and Labour Power.” In Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, 31 – 40. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998.
Week 3 (26 September 2016): Manufacturing as a Class Relation
Marx, Karl. Selections from “Manufacturing and Large-Scale Industry.” In Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. Ben Fowkes. London: Penguin/NLR, 1990.
Marx, Karl. ‘Estranged Labour’ in “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844).” In Karl Marx: Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton, 322 – 334. London: Penguin/NLR, 1992.
Ollman, Bertell. “Man’s Relation to his Productive Activity,” “Man’s Relation to his Product,” “Man’s Relation to his Fellow Men,” and “Man’s Relation to his Species.” In Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, 137 – 153. Cambridge, 1975.
Week 4 (3 October 2016): Machine Breaking and Collective Resistance by Riot
Hobsbawm, Eric. “The Machine Breakers.” Past & Present no. 1 (1952): 57 – 70.
Noble, David. “In Defense of Luddism.” In Progress without People, 3 – 23. Canadian Electronic Library. Between the Lines, 1995.
Week 5 Thanksgiving *No Classes*
Week 6 (17 October 2016): Industrial Capitalism and Resource Extraction in Early British Columbia
Belshaw, John D. “Work and Wages.” In Colonization and Community: The Vancouver Island Coalfields and the Making of the British Columbian Working Class, 75 – 114. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002.
Rajala, Richard A. “The Forest as Factory: Technological Change and Worker Control in the West Coast Logging Industry, 1880-1930.” Labour / Le Travail 32 (1993): 73–104.
Week 7 (24 October 2016): Taylorism or Scientific Management
Braverman, Harry. “Scientific Management” and “Machinery.” In Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, 59 – 85 and 127 – 162. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998.
Taylor, Frederick Winslow. Selections from The Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1911.
Week 8 (31 October 2016): In Class Exam (spooky)
Week 9 (7 November 2016): Social Histories of Technological Change: Roads not Travelled
Noble, David. “The Road Not Taken.” In Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, 144 – 192. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 2011
Malm, Andreas. “Fleeing the Flowing Commons: The Expansion of Water Power that Never Happened”, 96 – 120. In Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. London; New York: Verso, 2016.
Week 10 (14 November 2016): Critical Theory and Technological Rationality: The Factory and Society
Marcuse, Herbert. “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology.” In The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, edited by Eike Gebhardt and Andrew Arato, 138–63. New York: Continuum, 2005.
Feenberg, Andrew. “From Critical Theory of Technology to the Rational Critique of Rationality.” In Between Reason and Experience: Essays in Technology and Modernity, 157 – 180. Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2010.
Week 11 (21 November 2016): Fordism and Post-Fordism
Harvey, David. “Fordism” and “From Fordism to Flexible Accumulation.” In The Condition of Postmodernity, 125-172. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1990.
Week 12 (28 November 2016): High- Technology Capitalism and the Working Class
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. “Postmodernization, or the Informatization of Production.” In Empire, 280 – 303. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Fuchs, Christian. “Class and Exploitation on the Internet”. In Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory, edited by Trebor Scholz, 211 – 224. New York: Routledge, 2013.
*View Online* All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace, part 1. Directed by Adam Curtis. UK: BBC, 2011. Vimeo.
Week 13 (5 December 2016): Digital and Globalized Labour
Dyer-Witheford, Nick and Greig de Peuter. “Biopower Play: World of Warcraft.” In Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Videogames, 123 – 151. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.
Fuchs, Christian and Nick Dyer-Witheford. “Karl Marx @ Internet Studies.” New Media & Society 15.5 (2013): 782-796.
Students are expected to attend class prepared to discuss the required readings for that week and to complete their assignments on time.
• Participation and attendance: 20%
• In-class presentation: 20%
• Mid-term exam: 20%
• Final essay 40%
Attendance and Participation (20%)
Attendance and participation are compulsory. Six times during the semester students will prepare a question based on the readings. The question will be printed and handed to the instructor at the beginning of class. Each question will be worth 1% of a student’s final grade.
Mid-Term Exam (20%)
The midterm will be an in-class exam held in week 7. Questions will be given to students the week prior. The exam will be written by memory only, no notes. Students are required to write their mid-term exam and final essay on different topics.
Students will individually give one presentation/paper lasting 12 – 15 minutes on a topic related to one or more of that week’s readings. Presentations must not be a general overview of a reading in its entirety. Students should instead identify and discuss issues (or an issue) within or related to a reading or readings. Students are required to introduce academic material outside of the course syllabus. Following completion of the week’s presentations, the instructor will moderate a discussion between presenters and audience members (non-presenting students). Students should consider this an opportunity to generate discussion and receive feedback on a topic related to their final paper.
Final Essay (40%)
Students will research and write an essay either (1) related to a labour process of their choosing or (2) comparing theories of labour process. A good essay will relate the chosen labour process or labour-process theory to relevant social and economic conditions and social groups. The essay should be between 8 and 12 pages in length (excluding references), double-spaced, written in Times New Roman font (TNR is free and widely available for download), size 12, with reasonable margins (no funny business). There’s no need for a title page—it’s a waste of paper. Simply put your identifying information and title at the top of your first page. Final essay must be written on a topic different than that of your mid-term. Due date TBA.
Students who do not present on the day assigned will incur a 10% penalty. No essays turned in past the deadline will be accepted. Please keep an electronic back-up of all your completed assignments.
LBST 308-3 The Labour Process: Work and Technological Change