Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
University of Glasgow
Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna
Università del Piemonte Orientale
Call for papers
The issue of negotiating technological change has received varying degrees of interest within the tradition of industrial and employment relations studies. In response to the hegemonic pluralistfunctionalist approach and its deterministic conceptualisation of technical development (Dunlop, 1958), institutionalist and labour process theories within the tradition of democracy at work have emphasised how workers and trade unions, albeit with acknowledged limits, could shape not only the implementation of technical change and related work practices, but also its conception (Sorge and Streek, 1988; Wilkinson, 1983). In this respect, scholars within these traditions have identified a series of institutional or idiosyncratic variables that influence the degree of labour involvement in technology related decisions, even in unfavourable institutional settings characterised by the lack of statutory rights (Jacobi et al. (eds.), 1986, Batstone et al., 1987; Deery, 1989; Turner, 1991).
Along these lines, recent studies on the impact of digitalisation, automation and AI in various industries show that workers are not the passive target of the latest technological changes, but can influence the adoption of advanced technologies (Bosch and Schmitz-Kiebler, 2020; Chesta, 2021; Krzywdzinski et al., 2023). In particular, collective workers’ voice can give employees some agency over technology, work organization and working conditions (Groshen et al., 2019). However, the current debate about technology and related work dynamics at the upsurge of the new digital era reveals three important lacunae. First, the analytical perspective that has prevailed is the one about the effect of technology over workers, with much less attention being devoted to the study of how workers can affect the deployment of new technologies; i.e. conceiving the workers as active agents of technological change (Edwards and Ramirez, 2016). Second, the few studies that have assumed this less common perspective have examined how structures of collective workers’ voice can impact technological adoption, leaving untapped how this unfolds. In other words, how the negotiation of
technological change can make the experience of work more democratic and participative? Finally, recent analysis of Industry 4.0 transition for example have privileged generalizations across countries and firms. The embeddedness of the process in specific socio-economic contexts through comparative analyses has instead remained understudied.
Against this backdrop, it is perhaps necessary to sharpen our gaze on the study of negotiation over technology, framing the issue according to a broader perspective which emphasizes the role played by conjunctures between managerial regimes, accumulation pressures, and regulatory institutions (Pulignano et al., 2022). We consider those as factors shaping a set of constraints and resources available to workers to strategically act upon the new technologies. This seems even more essential today given the intertwining of technological innovation processes with those related to ecological transition (so much so that some speak of a ‘twin transition’), which necessarily involve social and political spheres that go well beyond collective bargaining.
Hence, focusing on the politics and management regimes of production and accumulation pressures allows for understanding negotiation over technology (or “technopolitics of production”, as Schaupp refers to it) as it takes place within and across different “arenas” (of regulation, implementation, and appropriation) (Schaupp, 2021), that do not necessarily correspond to the various levels of collective bargaining and that can involve actors from outside the industrial relations field, such as intermediary organisations (research centres, governmental agencies) or social movements (especially those linked to tackle climate change), therefore opening up potential synergies with worker bodies (Hampton,2015, Parker et al., 2021; Garneau et al., 2023).
The session welcomes both theoretical and empirical contributions that critically reflect on the issues outlined above and that can help broaden our understanding of the processes of negotiating technological change. With this mind, authors are encouraged to consider:
- Collective bargaining dynamics at national, international or sub-national level;
- Comparative institutional analysis on industrial relations and technological change;
- The role of unions and employers associations in influencing public policies related to technological innovation;
- Patterns of union mobilisation and action on technological change within traditional industrial relations frameworks;
- Coalition building of unions with other social actors and forms of experimental union action with the aim of influencing technological change;
- Worker resistance and misbehaviour that shapes technology implementation;
- The impact of financialization and political economy;
- The impact of the climate crisis and ecological transition in technology bargaining.