Question Forum 4

Question 1: Noble argues against technological determinism (109). What is technological determinism, and why does Noble reject it?

Jonathan's Response
Amanda's Response
Michael's Response

Rich H.

Noble’s point in his rejection of technological determinism is that the temptation to see numerical control of machine tools and the subsequent changes to the industry as the inevitable result of the march of computer technology; there were a number of social factors that drove the development of technologies that to some degree replace human labor. It is, in Noble’s opinion, insufficient to simply state that the technology of numerically controlled machine forever altered the machine tool industry and management/ labor relations. He insists that one must look more deeply at the technology came to the forefront. Throughout the article he provides a number of examples. I will summarize a few of them. The first is the influence of the Air Force to fund development and drive specifications for materials that encouraged N/C. The second factor that I’ll cover is power relationships on the shop floor.

Noble highlights the role of the Air Force in driving the move from a human process dependent entirely on human minds and hands, bypassing other technologies like the record-playback systems for numerical control technologies. He asserts that numerical control would not be possible without the influence and resources of the Air Force. (Noble, 165) Both the Air Force’s increasingly complex machining requirements and the organizations unique ability to drive development of the software to run the tools. Air Force resourced software developed at MIT became the standard for the industry. (Noble, 166)

The move to N/C machine tools was also supported by management of the machine tool industry. Certainly N/C machine tools were embraced by management to reduce human error and the workers control over production. However, in an era of anti-communist zealotry and heightened concern about the security of plans and production details, the use of N/C machine tools also removed detailed plans from the shop floor where they could be better controlled by management. (Noble, 171)
From Noble’s perspective, it seems, that technological determinism neither fully describes how N/C came to dominate the industry nor allows one to accurately assume the outcome. Although N/C machine tools did change labor relations on the shop floor, a change in labor relations was not the sole driver of the technology. In addition Noble asserts that the technology did not have the impact over time that some may have deduced. Humans remain on the shop and their role and compensation remain in dispute because they retain some measure of control over production. (Noble, 169,172)

Question 2: In note 10 of Noble's article (121n10), he states: "'Bottom-Line' explanations for complex historical developments, like the introduction of new capital equipment, are never in themselves sufficient, nor necessarily to be trusted….in the case of automation, steps are taken less out of careful calculation then on faith that it is always good to replace labor with capital….thus automation is driven forward, not simply by the profit motive, but by the ideology of automation itself, which reflects the social relations of production." What is the "ideology of automation" and how does it "reflect the social relations of production"?

Elijah's Response

Ariel's Response

Question 3: The whole class of workmen that depend exclusively on their skill, is now done away with. Formerly, I employed four boys to every mechanic. Thanks to these new mechanical combinations, I have reduced the number of grown up men from 1500 to 750. The result was a considerable increase in my profit.” (p.157)
To what extent does the machine control the human apparatus?
How does Karl Marx think that new mechanical combinations replace human workers’ skill?
What does profit mean in Karl Marx’s argument?

Anita's Response

Question 4: “Machinery comes into the world not as the servant of ‘humanity’, but as the instrument of those to whom the accumulation capital gives the ownership of the machines.” (p.158)
What does humanity mean in Braverman’s perspective?
Why does the ownership of the machine require management in accumulation capital?

Katelyn Kuhl: #3

Profit is the motivation of the capitalists. It is the reason for them to cut down their workforce and their responsibility for the contracts for their workforce. It is a driving force to increase production and reduce the input, regardless of the effect on the workers. Profit is squeezing more and more value out of the labor force utilizing any method possible, especially the machine.

The machine becomes a method of control. The worker that uses the machine to create goods does not control the machine. Instead the machine enables the control of the worker. The machine replaces the worker. If a machine can produce what a worker can, the machine is preferred for its consistency. The machine will also not strike. It can replace or reduce the number of skilled workers required, therefore removing the threat of a strike by skilled workers which could at one time, significantly threaten a business. Instead these machines can be run by anyone and workers that want to strike can be easily replaced.

Ultimately the machine organizes society into the capitalists and the work force. The power and skills of the workforce are taken away and they become both reliant on the capitalists for employment, yet also disconnected with their jobs and alienated from the products they produce.

Katelyn Kuhl:#4

Harry Braverman understands machinery as simply the tool that increases “human control over the action of tools.” (158) This ideal includes all of humanity increasing their control over tools. Humanity, in this abstract view, is not split up into the owners and the laborers. This split between these two groups is not natural. “[T]here is nothing more ‘natural’ about it than any other form of the organization of labor.” (159). However, the existence of this split turns machinery into a controlling force rather than a force that enables all of humanity to increasingly control the actions of their tools.

This is the result of about four “special conditions” delineated by Braverman. The first is that the machine must be owned by someone other than the person actually working the machine. The second is that owner and the worker must have “antagonistic” interests. The third condition is that the machine and organization of labor around that machine must serve the owner and not the “human needs of the producer.” (159) Lastly, lastly there must be “a social evolution….that parallels the physical evolution of machinery: a step by step creation of a ‘labor force’ in place of self-directed human labor.” (159) When these special conditions exist the machine enslaves the laborer. Ultimately the labor becomes disembodied, split up, and stove-piped. The machine becomes the tool of the owner; no matter how simple (such as the conveyor belt), the mechanized component shapes and controls the laborers actions.

Question 5
Oudshoorn and Pinch (2005) describe the importance of both users and non-users in shaping socio-technical innovations, with the ways they "consume, modify, domesticate, design, reconfigure, and resist technologies” (1) in multiple and diverse ways unanticipated by the designers focused on lead users and specific uses. Focusing on non-users and resistance is a new perspective. How do you contextualize the role of non-users in socio-technical innovations?

Russ Rochte late response to Q1:

Technological determinism is the view that technology(ies) are the “prime movers” of human history and the development of societies, and the fundamental conditions determining the pattern of social organization. For example, Marx wrote that “the windmill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist' (The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847). Some forty or so years ago, one author seriously suggested that the development of the horse collar quickly and directly led to the modern world - a reductio ad absurdum if ever there was one (sorry but I cannot recall the book or the author, but early 1970s I recall surely). David Noble argued strongly against technological determinism in his article. A simplistic and shallow view of the arrival of numerically controlled machine tools might conclude that all subsequent developments were the inevitable result of ever-better computer technology, with the analyst left “only to describe the inevitable effects” (109). Noble’s view, however, was that there were any number of other factors, principally social factors, which affected the development of technologies that tended to replace human labor – factors which the “critical analyst” must investigate in detail. He demanded that the researcher look more carefully at the technology that emerged as the “winner” AND at the various reasons for why it might have done so. Noble rejects technological determinism for several reasons. Amongst them is that it cannot account for the messy reality that actually transpired. N/C machine should have eventually replaced all labor – it certainly had that potential – but it failed to do so. Noble observed, “the intelligence of production [the human factor] has neither been built entirely into the machinery nor been taken off the shop floor [into the hands solely of management]; it remains in the possession of the work force” (121). Likewise, it seems that, despite all, humans are still indispensible, and tend not to meekly follow the lead of whatever technology seems to be creating their history. “Although the evolution of a technology follows from the social choices that inform it, choices which mirror the social relations of production, it would be an error to assume that in having exposed the choices, we can simply deduce the rest of reality from them. Reality cannot be extrapolated from the intentions that underlie the technology any more than from the technology itself” (120).

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