A history of ‘head work’. Critical perspectives on knowledge society

Beginn des Projektes: June 2022

Research project

In the late 1960s, scholars of the social sciences postulated that the modern industrial society had come to an end. Accordingly, the revolution of communication technology turned knowledge production, exchange of information and knowledge-based professions into the key features of the new post-industrial society. In this invisioned knowledged-based society highly qualified workers outnumbered the “manual work” of low-skilled workers. In the slipstream of this academic discourse, the “knowledge and information society” developed into new social self-description categories, which have been used since the 1980s to drive reforms in education, the economy and labor market policy and, most recently, the expansion of digital infrastructure. The categories served either as a promising future vision of a more egalitarian society or as a warning appeal that the unstoppable structural change requires comprehensive adjustments by individuals, the state and society in order to remain internationally competitive.

Half a century after these theses had claimed a fundamatal structural change of society, this project explores the impact of debates about the knowledge society on the reconfigurations of work in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. How did the understanding of work change? Who are the new knowledge workers and how do they differ from the older type of “intellectual workers” (Geistesarbeiter)? What changes did the organization and cultures of work undergo during the transition from industrial to knowledge society and what role did new media and communication technologies play in this? How can the new knowledge workers be socially located, and above all, what are their own social identities? With a view to the recent history of the Federal Republic of Germany, this project is thematically located at the interface of knowledge, economic and social history.

Dr. Désirée Schauz
Leibniz Center for Contemporary History Potsdam
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam

email: desiree.schauz [at] zzf-potsdam.de

Forschung

A history of ‘head work’. Critical perspectives on knowledge society

Beginn des Projektes: June 2022

Research project

In the late 1960s, scholars of the social sciences postulated that the modern industrial society had come to an end. Accordingly, the revolution of communication technology turned knowledge production, exchange of information and knowledge-based professions into the key features of the new post-industrial society. In this invisioned knowledged-based society highly qualified workers outnumbered the “manual work” of low-skilled workers. In the slipstream of this academic discourse, the “knowledge and information society” developed into new social self-description categories, which have been used since the 1980s to drive reforms in education, the economy and labor market policy and, most recently, the expansion of digital infrastructure. The categories served either as a promising future vision of a more egalitarian society or as a warning appeal that the unstoppable structural change requires comprehensive adjustments by individuals, the state and society in order to remain internationally competitive.

Half a century after these theses had claimed a fundamatal structural change of society, this project explores the impact of debates about the knowledge society on the reconfigurations of work in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. How did the understanding of work change? Who are the new knowledge workers and how do they differ from the older type of “intellectual workers” (Geistesarbeiter)? What changes did the organization and cultures of work undergo during the transition from industrial to knowledge society and what role did new media and communication technologies play in this? How can the new knowledge workers be socially located, and above all, what are their own social identities? With a view to the recent history of the Federal Republic of Germany, this project is thematically located at the interface of knowledge, economic and social history.

Dr. Désirée Schauz
Leibniz Center for Contemporary History Potsdam
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam

email: desiree.schauz [at] zzf-potsdam.de

Forschung