Social Production of Technical Work, The
The Case of British Engineers
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Engineers appear in recent social science as central, though somewhat elusive, figures. They play a particularly critical role in the various attempts to understand the impact of 'science-based' industry on the class structure of advanced capitalist societies. In this book, Peter Whalley brings these engineers into sharper focus. He argues that engineers should not be seen as members of a glamorous 'new class' of professionalized knowledge workers, nor as a radicalized 'new working class' or partially de-skilled technical proletariat. Rather, they should be viewed as 'trusted employees,' selected, socialized, trained, and rewarded to perform the discretionary tasks necessarily delegated by employers in the complex organizations of advanced capitalism.
The book draws extensively on observations and interviews to compare engineers' work and understanding in the high- and low-tech settings of two British companies: "Computergraph," an advanced electronics firm, and "Metalco," a traditional British engineering giant. Whalley compares the technical work structure of Britain with those of France and the United States. He argues that the impact of technological change on class structure is critically mediated by nationally specific modes of organizing technical work and producing trusted workers. The book goes beyond cultural explanations of these national variations to examine how they are created and reproduced in the organization of work and the structuring of occupations.
Peter Whalley is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Loyola University of Chicago. While completing the research for this book, he was visiting fellow at the Sociology Group at the Department of Applied Economics, Cambridge.