Social Production of Technical Work, The

The Case of British Engineers

By Peter Whalley

Series: SUNY series in the Sociology of Work and Organizations
Hardcover : 9780887062520, 237 pages, October 1985

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Table of contents

List of Tables

1. Engineers in Advanced Industrial Society
Engineers in Advanced Industrial Capitalism
The Sociology of Technical Workers
The Problem of Engineers

2. Industry: Old and New
Research Design
Old and New Industrial Settings
Engineers at Work
Technical Work

3. Knowledge, Trust and Labour Markets
Professionalism in Britain?
Engineers as Technical Staff
Theory and Practice
From Knowledge to Trust

4. The Organisation of Work
Specialisation and the Division of Labour
Autonomy or Deskilling?
The Organisation of work at Metalco and Computergraph
Organisational Design
Deskilling at Metalco?
Potential Sources of Deskilling
5. Experts and Managers
Managers or Experts?
Labour Market Orientation

6. Authority, Profit and Participation
Personal Authority
Engineers and Business
Managers and Markets
7. Collective Organisation
Trade Unionism
The Growth of Technical Unionism
8. The Social Production of Technical Work
The Social Production of Trusted Labour
Production and Reproduction
Engineers as Trusted Workers
The Future of British Engineering

Appendix: The Interview Schedule


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.