Thursday, March 18, 2010

Scientific Management and the "Deskilling" of the Fast Food Worker

During today's class discussion, several students raised the point that the fast food industry promises teenagers "work experience" but doesn't provide any training, skills, or knowledge that can be used outside of the fast food industry itself. To paraphrase Claude, the industry can give teens a line on their resume, but it doesn't give them the opportunity to develop new skills that they can take forward to the next job -- let alone challenging them to develop as people. Fast food workers don't even learn to cook!

We're going to talk more on Tuesday about the industry's assembly-line model of food production, but in light of today's discussion I dug up the following reference to the work of the labor sociologist Harry Braverman. Braverman's pioneering work in "labor sociology" was one of the first examinations of the effects of assembly-line labor on the workers who are subjected to it. As Martin Slattery explains in Key Ideas in Sociology:
The purpose of new technology, however, argues Braverman, is not only to increase productivity, but to increase management's control of the work force... The traditional craftsman of the early Industrial Revolution was, in a sense, self-employed and independent. He owned his own tools and place of work, bought his own materials and sold the finished product directly to the consumer. He alone possessed the necessary skill and knowledge required for the whole production process, from conception through to execution. He had a certain status and power in relation to the employer... Scientific management, argued Braverman, deskilled the industrial worker and left him helpless, powerless, and skill-less, controlled from above by factory managers and reduced on the shop floor to simply a unit of production. The epitome of scientific management was Henry Ford's giant assembly lines and the mass production of the early Ford motorcar (98).

You can read the rest of Slattery's chapter summarizing Harry Braverman's critique of scientific management and the "deskilling" of the worker in modern industrial labor at Google Books.

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