Repair and maintenance and the de-skilling thesis

Authors: Chantel Carr*, University of Wollongong
Topics: Economic Geography, Cultural Geography
Keywords: repair, maintenance, industrial, Australia, work
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 1, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In 1974, Harry Braverman argued that the conditions of labour under monopoly capitalism were fundamentally about the capitalist classes’ attempts to delimit workers’ craft skills - and thus their control over their own work day and routines. Rationalising the labour process involved breaking work down into smaller, discrete tasks, effectively increasing management control over the production process. In this paper, I seek to demonstrate how the complexity and heterogeneity of a large contemporary industrial site makes it is difficult to locate a consistent narrative of de-skilling across the site’s many labour processes. The size and complexity of contemporary steelmaking operations means that attempts to render the labour process as socially, technologically or spatially coherent for the purposes of such an analysis, would do both the process and its workers an injustice. Taking up the case of industrial maintenance and repair workers, I argue that the de-skilling thesis smoothed out industrial landscapes in terms of worker subjectivities, but also (somewhat ironically) in terms of skills and capacities. Moreover, its maintenance as an analytical lens tends to overlook the many reparative and restorative labours that remain central to any number of the futures - automated, catastrophic, and otherwise - that are being imagined today.

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