Politics of Performance in the Digitalised Industrial Workplace
Digital technologies provide new opportunities for shaping the labour process and redefine the conditions for control. This is most obvious with regard to new mechanisms for the automated predefinition of work tasks (e.g., assistance guides), for technically determining workers’ scope of action (possibly expanding or restricting it), and for enhancing the transparency of work processes. However, the use of certain digital technologies does not necessarily imply underlying efforts of control: Companies pursue different strategies of digitalisation, among which the rationalisation of labour power is only one.
At the same time, modes of control that make use of workers’ autonomy raise new questions regarding the relations between digital technology and the labour process. The project proceeds on the assumption that the digital transformation of the labour process can only be analysed in the interplay of digitalisation strategies, inherent dynamics of technology and concrete appropriation practices in work.
The project asks how patterns of the “Politics of Performance” on the shopfloor are shaped in the context of the digital transformation of work. We define “politics of performance” as the interaction between managerial strategies and worker involvement in defining, activating, and controlling work performance. The overall aim is to develop a concept that allows us to analyse the “politics of performance” in the context of a broader perspective on strategies of digitalisation ― this involves both those strategies that are directly geared toward labour control and those that are not explicitly connected with labour control but still affect its framework conditions.
At the empirical level our major concern is the interplay and interferences, contradictions and side-effects of strategies of digitalisation that are pursued by different players within a firm and the digitally shaped patterns of the politics of performance that evolve in that context in different fields of production work.
We conduct three case studies at company sites of the automotive, chemical, and engineering industry. By employing the case-study method, the study aims to achieve an in-depth analysis. However, we will also gain insights by the comparison of our cases of investigations. To do so, we start from different points of departure that revolve around factors that we expect to have an influence on firm strategies of digitalisation (e.g. market situation, position in the value chain, previous degree of automation).
The emerging patterns of their politics of performance will then be analysed within the context of the strategies of digitalisation identified in the case studies. Our main methods of data collection are problem-centred expert interviews with different corporate actors and executives and subject-oriented interviews with production workers. For an analysis of the context of each case, we will complement the interviews by document analysis and visiting the respective workplace sites.