Efficiency and Its Limits: (digital) Product Design and Shifting Job Requirements in the High-Tech Industry since the 1970s
In the 1970s, contemporaries observed a fundamental shift in job requirements. According to a widely accepted interpretation, "knowledge" substituted industrial work as the crucial factor of economic performance. Hence, intellectual labor and mental abilities became more important. Yet, while being linked to cognitive abilities, physical labor – and changing bodily requirements – continued to shape everyday working life in blue-collar and even white-collar occupations.
Based on this observation, the project analyzes how job requirements in three high-tech industries – automobiles, pharmaceutics, and information and communication technology – shifted in the Federal Republic of Germany since the 1970s. How did these changes affect the work requirements and pressure on workers and employees as well as their efficiency? On the one hand, the project scrutinizes how experts perceived and assessed changes in the workplace. For instance, it will be reviewed how scientists and industry representatives described and conceptualized the changes in the design and development of products, in particular with the onset of digitization. Furthermore, the methods used by both groups to measure and to assess the performance of physical and intellectual labor will be discussed. Where did the experts perceive the potential to increase efficiency? Where did they locate the limits of the employees’ and workers’ efficiency? On the other hand, the project will link this approach with the social history of workers and employees, reviewing the changes in their work environment: Which measures did companies implement in order to regulate and control the working subjects? How should this prevent unduly stress and increase efficiency? Combining these perspectives, the project will show how expert debates and new measures on the shop floor and in the office affected the behavior of workers and employees.
The project focusses on three different business units and occupational groups: 1) engineers, scientists and IT experts in research and development; 2) employees in marketing and controlling; 3) the workers in selected branches of manufacturing. In order to be able to identify the specificity of the developments in Germany, the project will include asymmetric comparisons with East Germany as well as the United States and France.
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christopher Neumaier
Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History
Am Neuen Markt 1
Email: neumaier [at] zzf-potsdam.de
From February 2019 to 31, Dec. 2020, Christopher Neumaier will be representing the Professorship of "Neuere Sozial-, Wirtschafts- und Technikgeschichte" at Helmut-Schmidt-Universität Hamburg.