Ariel’s Response to Group 4 Question #2

In this chapter, it seems that Noble is suggesting that the “ideology of engineering” reflects the dynamics of capitalism. For instance, he states that the “drive to substitute capital for labor” arises from the ideology of the “capitalist mode of production” (pg. 116). It is this “distrust of human beings by engineers” that mirrors “capitals distrust of labor” (pg. 116). Thus, he suggests that the “ideology of engineering … mirrors the antagonistic social relations of production” as delineated by “capital’s attempt to minimize its dependence upon labor by increasing its control over production” (pg. 116). Noble refers to the interactions between managers and labor as the “vertical relations of production” (pg. 112).

Within this framework, the "ideology of automation" refers to the “distrust of human agency,” which while cloaked in the language of concerns about “’human error,’” relates more to the power relations of labor. Noble frames the choice to pursue N/C (the symbol of “total automation), as opposed to record-playback, as an example of the role of capitalist systems and ideals in shaping engineering (pg. 116). For instance, Noble delineates the ways in which a “labor intensive machine shop “ that requires skilled workers gives those workers a locus of collective power (pg. 116). He suggests that this gives rise to the possibility of ‘pacing’ in which workers, and not managers, have control over production (pg. 116-117). To this end he cites Burawoy who found that the “relationship of workers to their machines rules out coercion as a means of extracting surplus” (pg. 117). Thus, whoever has control over the machines also has control over production, regardless of the tactics used to analyze and maximize production.

Despite the “intentions that underlie technology” Noble suggests that “the management dreams of a docile, disciplined work force” have not been realized (pg.120). Noble suggests that this is because 1) “the assigning of labor grades and thus rates to the new machinery was, and is, a hotly contested and unresolved issue,” 2) the machines are less reliable and autonomous than was desired by management, and 3) “machinery is still very expensive” (pg.120-121). Thus, Noble concludes that the “intelligence of production” remains on the “shop floor” regardless of the capitalist aims and value structures (pg. 121).

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