Research Output

From Gutenberg to Gates: a study of socio-technical change in the Edinburgh printing industry.

  Printing has a long and illustrious history as a craft industry. This study explores the effects of technological change on skilled workers in the Edinburgh general printing industry. Three, initially distinct, areas of sociological theory concerning technological change shaped the research questions. These were, firstly, to establish the nature of recent technological change, and what drives it; secondly, to explore managers’ decision-making in relation to such changes; and thirdly, to understand how workers’ experiences of work, and their relationships at work, have changed with these changes in technology.
My findings are based on three waves of investigations carried out over fifteen years, using responses from both managerial and shop-floor staff in five selected companies. This was done initially through questionnaires and later through semi-structured interviews. At Wave One (1991-92), most companies had made initial changes towards sophisticated computerisation, which had become embedded by Wave Two (1996-97). By Wave Three (2005-06) there was an ongoing programme of continual updating of these established systems constrained by the need to maintain compatibility with the computer systems used by customers due to the global hegemony of computer manufacturers. However, the effects upon workers were unexpected. Computerised typesetting programs inevitably brought deskilling, but original skills, learnt and used by workers over many years of rapidly changing technology, did remain relevant, and the acquisition of new skills associated with computerisation was regarded favourably. The most significant change for workers was the increased pressure resulting from a close relationship with customers, with vastly reduced time allowed for each job, and some erosion of workers’ capacity (and managers’) to produce work which satisfied their own standards of quality.
The three, originally separate, themes converged to show that the particular nature of computerised technology used in this sector of the printing industry has led to a change in the traditional capitalist production relationship. These workers were not alienated, their skills had not been entirely lost, as neo-Marxist labour process theory would suggest. Rather, relationships between managers and these skilled shop-floor workers were characterised by mutual respect and understanding of the need for collaboration, not conflict, in the face of external hostile pressures.

  • Type:

    Thesis

  • Date:

    30 April 2007

  • Publication Status:

    Unpublished

  • Library of Congress:

    TS Manufactures

Citation

Parnell, M. P. From Gutenberg to Gates: a study of socio-technical change in the Edinburgh printing industry. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from http://researchrepository.napier.ac.uk/id/eprint/3804

Keywords

printing industry; socio-technical change; Scotland; deskilling; collaboration;

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