S. Blume, J. Bunders L. Leydesdorff and R.
Whitley (eds.), The Social Direction of the
Public Sciences. Sociology of the Sciences Yearbook, Vol. XI, 1987, 135—160.
© 1987 by D. Reidel Publishing Company.
WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED FROM THE
AMSTERDAM SCIENCE SHOP
Department of Science Dynamics, University
of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
PETER VAN DEN BESSELAAR*
Social Science lnformatics, University of
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
It has been the programme of the sociology of science refashioned in the late 1960s “to open the black box of the production of science and technology” (1). New questions were raised, such as: How are scientific results brought about? How are knowledge claims honoured? How are the sciences organized intellectually and socially? And, in relation to the question of the “steering” of science: what exactly in the content of science can be externally influenced?
One reading of the results of many of the studies carried out in the past two decades can be summarized under the following headings:
— there are major differences between disciplines;
— there are important differences between the dynamics of the emergence of new scientific specialties on the one hand, and the developments of existing specialities on the other (i.e., we have to conceptualize “phases of development” in discussing these dynamics);
— science is socially stratified; whilst this social stratification leads to the formation of elites, it also plays a role in the social and intellectual integration of the sciences. This means that the sciences have specific internal power structures;
— relations with the social environments of science can be regarded as “negotiated”, and these negotiations are accessible to analysis.
On the basis of this general perspective of “sciences as knowledge production systems” (2), the question whether non-scientists can influence science has to be rephrased. It is now rather a matter of examining the extent to which, the level at which, and the dimensions in which lay people can influence the different sciences. What mechanisms are important? Which barriers can be overcome? How do (and how can) such influences become institutionalized, and at which stages of development of scientific specialties?
The complexity and multidimensionality of the interactions between science and society make it impossible to answer these questions once and for all. Although one of the more important conclusions of science studies over the last decade has been that scientists make trade-offs between “knowledge interests” and other (social and economic) interests, most of these studies have focussed on the science system itself, and have tended to treat external influence, or “external demand”, as something in itself unproblematic, but the function of which needs to be explained (3). However, when we want not only to account for external influence on science, but to explain the success or failure of external demand, it becomes necessary to make problematic the nature and the composition of external influence or demand.
To that end we focus here on one such external group, the trade unions, and particularly on the question whether the trade unions can use the collaborations with scientists which are made possible by institutes such as the science shops for the programmatic development of a “labour oriented science and technology” (4) as opposed to the current development of S and T which is heavily linked with industrial interests.
This we will try to do essentially on the basis of two strategically chosen case studies of long-term collaborations of the Amsterdam Science Shop with the unions in completely different sectors of society (the chemical industry and banking). Because in these cases both different technologies and different markets are involved, we will be able to generalize our conclusions about how technology affects the positions of workers, and about the possibilities for trade unions to translate these consequences into what we will call “technological demand”: the specifications of a technological research programme which may produce labour-oriented technologies.
Towards a Labour-Oriented S & T-programme
In the aftermath of the student revolts of the late 1 960s Europe witnessed a revival of Marxist theorizing with special attention to science and technology. The changed relations between “capital” and “science~~ were a common focus among many different theories of that time. For example, some theorists declared that “science and technology” had become a productive force (5), revolutionizing the dialectics between the structure and superstructure of society (6). Others emphasized the ideological power of modern science and technology, implying the need for a critical theory (7). Much attention was also paid to the theory of changing class relations between workers and intellectuals, leading eventually to Mallet’s thesis of “the new working class” (8) and Braverman’s thesis about the degradation of work in the scientific-technological revolution (9).
In the 1 970s these new ideas led to attempts to establish coalitions and collaborations between scientists and workers — whether unionized or not — in order to explore practically and empirically the niches of scientific and technological developments in the capitalist system from a labour point of view (10). In Holland, the lack of cognitive content in such cooperation was soon perceived as a problem, both by the scientific community and by union leaders. In 1973, union leaders dismissed an offer of cooperation from the newly founded Scientific Workers’ League out of fear of interference in the union by intellectuals without well-defined roles (11). This problem could later be overcome through the proposal to create Science Shops: these university-based institutes would take the questions of their clients as external demands primarily for the university research system (12).
The University. of Amsterdam accepted this concept of a mediating institute in 1977, and it succeeded in gaining union support for the initiative when the government of that time tried to turn down the small budget (Dfl. 30,000) requested for it (13). Ever since, the Dutch unions have been heavily involved in the further development of the Amsterdam Science Shop into a science policy instrument (14).
When in 1977 we established the Amsterdam Science Shop, we acted on the belief that our society was going through a period of change in power relations caused mainly by the rise of science and technology as sources of production, power and legitimation, and that therefore access to science and technology might be a crucial resource. The Science Shop was intended as a specific instrument to give access to science to groups underprivileged in this respect. Unlike earlier more humanistic experiments which focused on the distribution of knowledge, the notion of access by contrast refers rather to the process of the production of knowledge: to the knowledge production system (15). Reviewing the experiences of the Amsterdam Science Shop thus provides the possibility of analyzing external demand: in other words, of analyzing the role of identifiable external groups in the process of the production and the diffusion of scientific results.
In earlier articles we have dealt with the lessons which can be drawn from the Science Shop experiences for trade union participation in technology policies at the corporate level (16), in university research policy (17), and in national science and technology policies (18). In this article we focus on systematic attempts to explore the institutional and cognitive translations which are necessary to establish an enduring cooperation based on substantive mutual interests. We will examine instances in which unions, concerned by the social effects of new technologies, were led to address the Amsterdam Science Shop. We take these instances as input to a translation process, and we look at the possibilities which existed to feed these social effects back into the R & D-process.
The problem can be seen in relation to recent discussion of the nature of technological innovation and in particular the relations between “demand” and “supply”-side factors.
Mowery & Rosenberg, in a critique of the idea of “market demand” as the crucial determinant of technological innovation (19), showed how “market demand” had to be reinterpreted in other terms (such as “need specification”) to be made accessible for empirical investigation, whilst such reinterpretation at the same time implied a translation of these “demand” factors into terms which can be dealt with from the “supply” side. Similarly Langrish et al. had concluded that “perhaps the highest-level generalization that it is safe to make about technological innovation is that it must involve synthesis of some kind of need with some kind of technical possibility” (20). Implicitly, Mowery & Rosenberg plead for the conceptualization of innovation as the outcome of creative combinations by actors who have access to information about (future) markets and technological developments (21).
From recent work in economics these emerges a picture of local concentrations of resource mobilisations leading to innovative activities in distinct submarkets, which under certain conditions can gradually gain the momentum of a “technological trajectory” (22). Dosi (23) stresses the room for various forms of stricto sensu non-economic interests of private actors and state interventions in these processes. However, the inducing mechanisms and focusing devices for such concentrated efforts over longer periods of time have been described as typically capitalistic in our type society, offering the prospect of long-term profit maximalization through labour-saving inventions (24). Braverman’s thesis that technologies are as much social as technical, aiming explicitly at the control of labour, is well known in the sociology of work and industrial relations (25). Elsewhere (26) we have argued that such a thesis is over-politicized. Although at the operational level technologies are used to strengthen control over work organization and labour in general, it is essentially the directing influence of management over technological development, and not the very nature of science and technology, which gives technological development this character. From the study of relatively successful forms of technology interfaces in government technology policies (27) we can conclude that actors other than management can influence technological developments, but only when they build up a comparable commitment to goal realization by technological means. A major step in this process is the specification of “need” in terms which are accessible to programmatic research activities.
This then is the perspective from which we shall look at the experiences of the Science Shop, and its role in the “specification” and “translation” of the “needs” of the trade unions.
It is perhaps necessary to spell out some of the limitations of the argument in this paper.
We do not intend to explain technological development as such. We focus on the possibilities for external actors within the economic subsystem (management, unions) to influence technological development from their (normative) point of view. Nor do we intend to say anything about possible influence on science or technology in general, but only about science-based technologies. And because of the capital-intensive way in which this technology is being produced, we pay special attention to the knowledge-based multinational firm. Hence we will not discuss specific problems which emerge in collaborations between scientists and unions in the social sciences and economics (28), or in ecology (29).
We do however, want to clarify our conception of what “alternative” technology can be from a union’s point of view. In the discussions on alternative science and technology, many different perspectives can be discerned. In their most radical form, alternative S & T are supposed to have different epistemological characteristics (30). (Among social scientists it is sometimes even claimed that the “social ontology” of the different theoretical schools determines the normative content of their research (31).) Another demarcation is the question of methods: alternative S & T should use other methods than mainstream S & T (for example, action research (32)).
To reiterate: we are interested in the question of the extent to which the unions can act as what is sometimes called a “leading edge consumer” specifying decision criteria, functional and eventually technical specifications for R & D programmes and projects. But as the reader will have appreciated, our concern goes beyond the analytical. Can we combine the trade unions’ access to the relevant industrial relations, on the one side, and the high standard of R & D facilities at the Dutch universities, on the other, to create perspectives for alternative programmes which would at least shape the contours of technological alternatives?
An example may help to make clear the nature of our concern, beyond that, of pure analysis. In many chemical industries, workers are engaged in shift-work; this means that they regularly have to work in the evening, at night and during the weekend. Social scientists have shown the negative consequences of this type of work-organization for health and for social life. But at this moment, in many cases it is not possible to stop using shift-work because of the technical characteristics of chemical production-processes.
Unions have — broadly speaking — two ways of handling this problem. They can either try to negotiate — accepting the existing technologies — about the negative consequences of shift work, and hence demand compensation (higher wages) or labour-time reduction for the workers involved (five instead of four shifts). Or, at another level, they could demand the formulation of a research-programme that should lead to new (chemical) process-technology that can be started and stopped more easily than the technologies of today. Only this latter demand could generate an input to the development of an R & D program in chemical technology and lead to the notion of a technological alternative which can again be dealt with in economic terms.
Left on their own, unions will choose the former strategy. To establish interest in the latter strategy at the level of S & T policies is a task in itself, which requires a mutual build-up of interests between unionists and scientists.
Trade Unions and ‘Science-Based’ Technology
As the Science Shop emerged from the academic year 1977—1978, we had to conclude that the demands put forward by the unions were (i) nearly always technical and not scientific, (ii) occasional and not general, and (iii) required service and not research. A scientific or technological problem “behind the questions” was never obvious.
From our science studies background we were aware that this was not accidental but systematic, so we decided to take a programmatic step. In March 1978, we launched a project on “Natural Sciences and Trade Unions”; from then on, we looked systematically for situations in which the unions were confronted with the effects of science and technology, and in which they could be expected to have to take these effects into account in their policies.
This more active attitude towards the problem of translation quickly led to success; through the local union we established contact with a shop stewards’ committee at the large Amsterdam site of a major diversified Dutch chemical corporation, AKZO. The shop stewards’ committee of that plant requested help on issues which they believed to be “technological”, because they were facing a loss of about 50 jobs per year. Between May 1978 and February 1982, we collaborated on some 13 projects.
In the context of this paper we cannot go into details about the different projects, which were aimed primarily at discovering whether, and if so, how the unions were indeed confronted with the effects of S & T (33); our primary objective here is to establish analytically what conditions have to be fulfilled in order to enhance the integration of unionists’ demands with R & D.
Strategic Management of Technological Development
A model of relatively successful management of the interface between S & T and external demand is available in “science-based” industries. To some degree, at the level of long-term planning, management is able to account for the obsolescence of the product portfolio, and consequently to anticipate new technological developments. The more it does so, the more it can take advantage of the leading edges it has developed in its own R & D laboratories.
Therefore, in contrast to a former stage of development when the main function of the industrial R & D laboratory may have been to keep in touch with the pool of knowledge and science, and to make it possible for the company to profit from it, the control of parts of these markets has now become a central objective of management. This has important implications for the organization of the relevant sciences, and in particular for the division of labour between industrial and public science. The relations between these two segments of science have themselves become the object of (industrial) control. Increasingly, industries, and not the institutions of science, control the flow of scientific and technical information (34).
In many knowledge-intensive sectors in which international corporations are in oligopolistic competition with each other, a crucial condition of success is the management of the interface between R & D and marketing (35). To that purpose, the company has to build up a control structure of its R & D facilities, which must allow it to establish a “leading edge” in at least a few of these science-based technologies. This implies that the organization can accomplish a superior degree of integration of the relevant streams of information, among which the relevant research fronts are most preeminent. To do so, the company’s own R & D has to be strong, and it must be also strongly linked to the most reputable R & D facilities in the relevant areas.
It is not enough for a company like Philips to have its own research laboratories, and it is significant that these laboratories have been where the most advanced solid state physics has been done in the Netherlands in recent decades. At the same time, the company has to watch its prime competitors (such as Bell Laboratories), to stimulate the Dutch goverment to organize solid state physics in a number of other locations, to provide universities with professors who can conduct research by international standards, and to be a centre of intellectual activities which allow the company to claim its share in the reputational control system of solid state physics.
Although the position of Philips in the Netherlands may be an extreme case, the same patterns and the same attempt to achieve this sort of integration can be found in all major industrial corporations. S & T are no longer incidental to the production process; they have become a central concern. The emergence of internal R & D policies within the corporations has stimulated an awareness that a company cannot sustain competition if it is not able to organize the public sciences actively. This is not to say that these sciences do not have their own intellectual standards, their own internal stratification and selection procedures. In solid state physics, we have ourselves found that people in Dutch university laboratories were heavily engaged in what they believed to be “pure science”, without industrial or direct social relevance. At the same time their colleagues at Philips were working on the same subjects with the same qualifications for strategic reasons (36). The existence of an academic community with its specific ideologies should not blind us to the extent to which the academic community has been integrated into the modern industrial system.
Barriers to Workers’ Influence
The ability to control highly differentiated and highly diversified structures is essential to the success of a science-based multinational corporation. Such a system has to be supported by institutional structures which embody the principle of divide et impera: if industrial relations are of minor importance at the strategic level, institutional provisions have to prevent workers’ influence at that level. To that purpose, it has become common practice among multinational corporations to run their local companies through national daughter companies whose formal organization does not correspond to their functional integration. For example, AKZO is run according to the scheme in Figure 1 (p. 144).
In this scheme the limited company AKZO Chemistry Netherlands Ltd. is presented as part of the AKZO Netherlands Ltd., although in reality it is a functional part of — and has about the same board of directors as — AKZO Chemistry Ltd., which is the international division for chemical specialities.
Once a segregation has been brought about between the national level and the international level, integration between R & D and marketing is concentrated in the international branches. Knowledge-intensity and internationalization belong together.
At the national level, operational planning and execution are the main issues. Management’s explicit task at this level is to deal with local and national authorities and to bargain with the unions.
model of organization severely limits the types of insights which can be
brought to bear by the participants in alternative circuits such as those
organized by science shops, etc. The labour force is pushed back into a
dependent role with respect to strategic information by the erection of new
institutional structures. The unions have no access to the processes of
strategic decision-making in which technological options are matched with
future company needs. The problems they are confronted with are at the
executive level, negotiated with management, and therefore problems of industrial
relations. As a rule the union wi/l not
have the possibility to develop its own interface with science and technology
at company level “over the heads of their industrial partners”~
After this conclusion was drawn from the AKZO case, we wanted to know whether it was generalizable to other industrial sectors. To that end we conducted a survey of 37 alternative corporate plans (“workers’ plans”) by unions in Dutch industry. These “alternative corporate plans” follow the Lucas Aerospace model (37), and hence intend to spell out an alternative strategy for the firm with respect both to the market and to technology, in opposition to management’s strategies. Assessing these plans, we found that workers’ plans are always elaborated in reaction to a threat (of reorganization, closure, etc.) which is in fact generated by an earlier strategic decision of a corporation to disinvest in that activity (38). The decisions responsible for the threat of unemployment were made at higher levels of the company, and were thus beyond the control of the local unions. Hence, it was impossible for workers to propose feasible technological alternatives, even when they were relatively successful in establishing relations with external researchers and engineers.
However, all our cases were chosen from industrial sectors where what was at issue was innovation in basic technologies. It has been argued that the new information technologies which aim at systems development are more “flexible” and hence more accessible to workers’ influence (39). Moreover, many industrial products are sold on world markets with heavy competition, whilst in other sectors, such as services, local factors might well be more important. It would therefore follow that other actors could be more influential, too.
These considerations led us to seize the opportunity offered in 1981 when the National Service Workers’ Union asked the Amsterdam Science Shop for advice about the plans for a National Payment Circuit among the commercial banks and the Post Office. In this case we had office automation as a new technology in another empirical domain and in a market without strong international competition, and with the traditionally strong position of state-owned public services. Would our conclusions from the industrial case still hold under these conditions?
In 1981, after several discussions with the union representatives, we formulated a common project on “Trade Unions and Electronic Funds Transfer Systems” (EFTS).
Electronic Funds Transfer.Systems
Although the emergence of electronic funds transfer systems is a process taking place in all western countries, its specific form and the speed of its diffusion differs from one country to another according to differences in the existing payment systems. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the different EFTS developments (40). In general, the introduction of information technology in funds transfer is a development with important consequences for society at large. It implies the rise of a new (financial) infrastructure with consequences for such different things as the monetary control system, the structure of the banking sector, and the internal management information and control system of each bank.
A concomitant feature of all these developments is the list of social problems which accompany the “electronification of the payment system”. Among these the following problems are to be mentioned: (i) the change in market relations, (ii) privacy, (iii) the accessibility and pricing of funds transfer services, (iv) the quality, reliability and safety of the system, (v) legal and juridical problems (who is responsible in case of failure?), (vi) the impact on the organization of banking institutions, (vii) aspects of the costs of EFTS, (viii) employment, (ix) the quality of labour (41).
Among the service sectors banking is particularly relevant for our subject because the automation of retail banking eliminates a large part of the manual control in funds transfer systems. Actually, banking is a labour-intensive sector which will gradually be transformed into a capital-intensive sector by the introduction of the new technology. The immense employment effects of this technological change make it likely that personnel policy will in this case have a strategic character: the speed of introductiOn of the new technology will be partly determined by the ability of the banks to get rid of their personnel (42).
Major automation projects for retail banking have been set up since the early 1 970s. In the Netherlands, a leading project was initiated in 1972 by Philips, in cooperation with its home-banker AMRO (Amsterdam-Rotterdam Bank), to develop a datacommunications network.
Retail banking is predominantly an internal market. In Western Europe, and particularly in Holland, this market is to a large extent controlled by state-owned postal services. As early as 1975, the Dutch government founded a Steering Group to direct the design of an information-processing network between the different banks and the Post Office (43). Such a system was expected to integrate the different giro-systems between banks, on the one hand, and the Post Office, on the other, and to become at the same time an infrastructural provision for the exploitation of new electronic funds transfer services like Automatic Teller Machines (ATM5), Point of Sale Terminals (POS), etc.
It would take the Steering Group till 1981 to publish its first Green Paper for an integrated National Payment Circuit (NBC) (44). The conflicting interests between the banks and the Post Office could finally be brought to a trade-off when the Post Office made concessions in exchange for the condition that the NBC would use the public information processing network which was to be exploited by another division of the Post Office.
Technology Assessment of EFTS
The first studies dealing with the social effects of information technology became available only in the late 1 970s, mostly from the social sciences. They emphasized the different nature of this new technology:
in addition to and closely linked with the hard- and software, “orgware” had to be taken into account (45). This concept stands for the organizational knowledge which has to be brought to bear to let the new technology work. Because software can be built into the architecture of the hardware, and orgware seems to be highly integrated with software in systems design, it appears that one encounters here a direct operational interface between science-technology and its organizational and social effects.
The unions in this area, concentrated in the National Service Union and the Christian Service Union, both became aware of the impending impact of these technological developments only in the late 1970s. In order to develop “alternatives”, both of these unions actively sought alliances with political parties, the Post Office, the unions of civil servants and the universities. One of the union leaders, himself a graduate of Amsterdam University, took up these issues and soon became a member of the Daily Board of the (larger) National Service Union. He stressed particularly the importance of a systematic search for alternatives such as “user-oriented systems design”, technology agreements, etc. (46). From 1978 onwards he systematically addressed such questions to the Amsterdam Science Shop.
However, it took some time to agree upon a suitable topic. In our research we were primarily interested in the question of whether the social problems, i.e. the unemployment effects which could be foreseen, could have had some bearing in one phase or another on the design of the system. Of course, for the union which had been refused participation in the Steering Group, the quantitative and qualitative effects on employment and work were the most important aspects in terms of which the plans had to be assessed. However, next to this direct purpose, a thorough technology assessment of the NBC plans would be useful to enable the unions to influence public decision-making on the NBC (Parliament had still to deal with it!), and they hoped that such an effort could also lead to the formulation of alternatives.
In a certain sense, we had to gain access to the domain for our analysis by doing a technology assessment of the NBC for the trade-unions. The most important results of this study can be summarized as follows. First, we were able to provide a very detailed assessment of the employment consequences of the NBC plans. Combining information about the envisaged savings with information about the investments needed for the NBC, we could show convincingly (using the figures of the Steering Group itself) that they had played down the loss of jobs with their estimate of 700 jobs. As we received more precise information about the actual workflow in the banks and the proposed function of the NBC, we were able to predict with detailed arguments a loss of about 2500 jobs (47). Besides, we pointed out that this would only be a “modest” beginning: if the new electronic services like P05 and ATM were to be implemented in The Netherlands and accepted by the public (which is a crucial variable here), job losses in other sectors could be several times higher (48). From our analysis, we were also able to specify in detail which categories of workers would suffer most from the NBC.
Social Effects of
Although the union was very successful in using our reports in the press and in Parliament, the central question for us — whether it really was technological development which caused these effects — had to be answered negatively.
In our investigation of whether other NBC designs could be more labour-friendly, we had to conclude that the employment effects of the NBC were affected by its technological aspects only to a small extent. Actually, the integration of the different giro-circuits is not primarily a technological but an organizational affair, which is facilitated by the emergence of the new technology. One can think of ways of integrating the two giro-circuits administratively, without information technology as a medium. When we actually calculated the employment effects of such an “organizational NBC”, our detailed computations showed that in that scenario the reorganizations would cause the loss of almost as many jobs as the “technological NBC”. Moreover, the same categories of workers would suffer from this “organizational NBC”!
Therefore, in these cases of office automation, it is not the implementation of new technology as such that causes unemployment, but its organizational form.
This also explained with hindsight why neither in the design for the NBC nor in the secret — but nevertheless available — minutes of the Steering Group could any arguments be found in favor of the thesis that the management of any of the participating institutes was implementing the NBC for the purpose of establishing better control over the work-force. In no instance was the decision-making on the NBC essentially influenced by considerations of the close connections between the new technology and its consequences for labour. Nor was decision-making influenced by .the manpower problems which the Pactel report had claimed were of strategic importance particularly in this sector (49).
If it was not the technology itself, nor the world market — as we explained above, this was a domestic market — what then did guide the dynamics of this development?
A more detailed analysis of the specific market relations and competitive positions of the main actors made clear that their strategic considerations with respect to their market positions had nevertheless been crucial for the choices they had to make — ten alternatives were discussed — and for the compromises they were willing to accept. The introduction of EFTS made it possible to work out another arrangement between the banks and the Post Office. The Post Office could accept the integration of the two circuits — very much to its disadvantage — in exchange for some concessions from the banks regarding the structure of the sector. The major technical point in this — there were political points, too — was the realization of the NBC through the public information processing network, which was to be exploited by another division of the Post Office.
However, the social problems involved were, as in the industrial case, left over for the “operational” levels of each participant, to be worked out with their employees and the unions.
Of course, the next question to be raised is whether the organizational form of the technological development is not itself a part of the technology in systems design?
The answer is “yes and no”: the high-tech side of the organizational problem is oriented towards the market, while the interface with the workforce gives rise to more trivial (not technological) problems, such as the organization of the remaining tasks.
Let us illustrate this with an example:
The actual network which has to carry the data can be drawn either as a “star” with central functions, or just as an infrastructure through which every participating institute communicates directly with everyone else. This choice has major implications for the participating institutions, but they are not of primary importance for the workforce because it all ends in a terminal, which in either case can have almost the same functions.
Because the banks already had a central institution to clear their mutual transactions and to prevent money from leaving their circuit (the Bankgiro-centrale), paradoxically the Post Office had an interest in decentralization which would break open these central functions. The Post Office feared that if the NBC were to be a “star-shaped network” and as a consequence deal with many central functions, then the Post would continue to suffer from the arrangements between banks. Therefore, this organizational aspect of the NBC, which comes down to a choice between technological alternatives, is of crucial importance for respective market positions.
However, it is not easy to imagine the consequences for the workforce from the choice of either of these possibilities. The essential choices at their end of the line involve issues such as whether to integrate in one function (and terminal) both the service to the public and the cashier function (50). To very large extent, such choices have nothing to do with the technology involved.
Conclusions from the EFTS Case Study
Of course, technological developments lead to an increase in the productivity of labour; but these effects are mediated through organizational changes which can, as in this case, themselves be the major source of the social consequences.
The choice between technological options can be vital for the entrepreneur, since the consequences of these choices affect the position of the company in the market; at the same time, however, the social consequences for the workforce are not considered relevant for this type of decisions, and the choices which can be made are actually rather indifferent with respect to workers’ interests.
In this case the influence of the unions in decision-making was also blocked by the institutional arrangements between the banks and the Post Office. But even if they had not been blocked, it would have been very hard to think of alternatives because the technological options are coupled to something the unions are not directly interested in (market positions) rather than capital-labour relations (jobs).
Not only can firms deal better with the management of technologies when they differentiate between strategic planning and operational planning, but also the other way round: science-based technologies tend to be more accessible for those actors who are able to internalize the different (technological and organizational) dimensions of the problems in their organization.
Although we originally had strong reasons to expect differences between the case of technological developments in the chemical industry and the implementation of the new technologies in banking, we found our experiences in the former case very fruitful for the explanation of the developments in EFTS. As in the former study of AKZO, we tried to investigate the way in which technology affects the positions of workers, and the possibilities for trade unions to translate these consequences into what can be called “technological demand”: a technological research programme which produces labour-friendly technology. The conclusions in this case are negative for both questions. First, the effects of the NBC on employment are caused not by the technology, but by the organizational choices which are made in the process of automation (51). It is not capital-labour relations, but market positions that are primarily related to technological choices. Secondly, as in the advanced industrial sectors, the unions in the banking sector are incapable of formulating research programmes in the way management can — translating one’s goals in terms of R & D (as in the choice of an electronic NBC and of a certain type of network) — because their internal structure is shaped with respect to a local environment, in which they are institutionally reinforced.
In knowledge-intensive sectors, the possibilities for organizations to translate their goals into R & D, to produce (technological) knowledge and to implement it (influence its diffusion) depend on the position of the organization in the inter-organizational network and on the structure of the organization involved. In the case of the unions, we see that their position lies too much outside the relevant structures of decision-making for them to be able to articulate a functional interest in the technological decisions as they are actually being made. However, such a commitment is a precondition for success in influencing technological development (52). Of course, one can dream of a world in which Labour would be able to build up this level of differentiation within its organizations; but in the cooperation with unions in our present situation it is of the utmost importance to be aware of these severe limitations on the “demand” which can be brought forward by the unions (53).
Unions on High-Tech Markets
Although not central in our sociology of science perspective, the question whether unions as an alternative may have the possibility to exercise influence on technological developments by way of changing the market, either directly or through pressure on the government (e.g., legislation on health and safety), is relevant to the normative issues raised here.
Under the conditions of very typical neo-corporatist arrangements (54), the Scandinavian, and notably the Swedish unions, seem to be able to influence government policies in such a way that specific segments of markets are created. The best-known example of gearing this power to technological options is the UTOPIA project, in which unions and researchers collaborated to specify and to design new technology for the graphics industry (55).
In the project, experiments were undertaken with different forms of man-machine interfaces to develop requirements for graphic technology from a worker’s (and product-quality!) point of view. Cooperation with the (state-owned) firm LIBER, which is producing graphic equipment, led to the development of equipment that satisfied the requirements of the UTOPIA team to a large extent. Hence one may conclude in this case that the unions were able to direct the development of an important element of graphics technology, the man-machine interface.
However, market forces necessarily come to play a role in the development phase: LIBER (and the unions involved) hoped to achieve a strong position on the Scandinavian market for graphic tools through the local graphic unions, which could force employers in their sector to buy these tools.
The firm decided to follow also a further strategy to expand from this very special segment of the market to the main market for graphic tools, which is predominantly the US market. (The whole Scandinavian market is less than 2% of the American market.) To that end, it had to adapt to the requirements of that larger market, which among other things meant lowering standards for quality. Because it could not integrate these two type of specifications, LIBER followed a “double” strategy for the two markets. Eventually the firm was not able financially to meet the two sets of standards at the same time, and failed in both markets. The equipment of the UTOPIA project did not pass its experimental phase.
In our opinion, this case can show that under very special conditions, local resource mobilization by unions can lead to technological change relating to specific aspects of (information) technology at the man-machine interface. The front-end character of this aspect, somewhat comparable with “health and safety” issues in the chemical industry, makes it accessible to union intervention, provided the unions can count on state support. Therefore, we can expect once in a while a counter-example to our general claim about the inability of the unions to integrate market perspectives and technological options within their organization — and we actually did find in our survey of the “workers’ plans” some instances of successful collaboration between unions and scientists in the early phases of the elaboration of innovative ideas (56). However, in such cases unions and nation-states in the western world are extremely badly equipped to manage the process of technological innovation up to the phases of market introduction.
The idea of a possible integration of unionists’ demands with university R & D was based on the conceptualization of science and technology as a knowledge production system: a socially contingent work organization which might be managed with different objectives. It was thus implied that management uses technological developments in order to bring about effects on employment, and that employees are in principle able to counteract these effects by organizing their own interface with S & T. However, we have argued that these assumptions are no longer valid for advanced “knowledge-based” sectors:
(i) although technological developments indeed have effects on employment, only in exceptional cases are these effects significant at the strategic level of managerial decision-making at which S & T are systematically incorporated;
(ii) employees are not in a position to organize alternative R & D policies which could counterbalance the economic integration of R & D and markets in complex and knowledge-intensive corporations.
The special role of employees, which can be legitimized by their presence in the enterprises, will have to be put in perspective: the experiences of workers are today not (or no longer? (57)) a point of access for a better understanding of the mechanisms which drive technological developments. (Of course, this is even less so in the case of issues raised in negotiations between unions and management, which are by their nature of a global character.)
What can be expected from cooperation between unions and scientists, given this state of affairs?
In our opinion, our conclusions have serious implications for the joint projects of unions and scientists in public institutes such as those advocated by science shops. Research on the social effects of technological developments has to be distinguished from technological research that is directed toward reaching social goals.
In so far as social scientists try to cooperate with unions in “technology assessment” (A in Figure 2), there exist possibilities for implementing a union’s point of view in research questions. However, in that case the development of science and technology is effectively assumed, and the main purpose of the study is to explain — or even to predict — the social effects of given developments (such as, for example, office automation). These effects can be studied at the level of specific enterprises, at the level of a branch, or at the level of society at large, each requiring its own form of social scientific analysis.
The primary aim of such studies is the better assessment or even the prediction of these social effects. Technology and natural sciences are relevant as sources of information. Researchers in these latter disciplines are needed for such cooperation primarily as experts on the relevant future developments. From the point of view of these researchers, this task has more to do with knowledge transfer than with real research.
The cooperation with external groups is a natural complement to such studies. As scientists are used as experts, a need emerges for counter-expertise, which can be provided by science shops and similar institutes.
A second group of studies (B) (of which the present account is one) belong to the sociology of science and technology. From this perspective, S & T and their practitioners are not mere sOurces of expertise, but the objects of study. In these studies we do not focus on the social implications of new technologies but on social influences on the development of S & T. To what extent and in what ways is the development of S & T to be understood by means of the social contexts of S & T? We would like to call this programme the “science dynamics” programme within the whole area of S & T studies.
In this context, the opinions of scientists and technologists have a different significance: not as a matter of expertise and counter-expertise, but as a method of gaining access to the relevant domains. To the extent that these studies deliver better insights into the steering mechanisms of S & T, they can be useful for those who exert some power on R & D apparatuses and possess the economic resources to stimulate developments in one direction or another, such as governments and boards of science-based enterprises.
However, from the point of view of public interest it is desirable to broaden these possibilities. Other social groups also should be in a position to stimulate natural scientists and technologists to develop technologies which are needed from a social perspective. (Note that in such a programme natural scientists are not only objects or sources of knowledge but the actual actors who have to perform the research!)
From the study of relatively successful forms of technology interfaces like those between strategic R & D management and government technology policies in some instances (58), we may conclude that the integration of insights from “technology assessment” studies and science dynamics” studies into a normative perspective demands a special effort. Specific conditions are required which may vary with differences in various dimensions, such as the character of the organizations involved, the structure of the market one operates in, the time scale of the planning process, and the relevant disciplines. As we have argued, to achieve this in the knowledge-intensive sectors, the intervention of a strong and organizationally sophisticated actor is required.
The problem, in our opinion, is that it is doubtful whether parties other than those which already dispose of their own substantial R & D facilities, or can exert power on the market for new technologies, can generate the precise mixture of cognition and organizational power which seems necessary to act upon the S & T system. It is also doubtful, for the same reason, whether over longer periods such external partners could become functional participants in interorganizational arrangements exerting influence on technology, even when such an arrangement is backed up by the technology policy of the state. Without their own experience with the production and diffusion of scientific knowledge, these groups cannot stay in touch with the substance of the process except on a normative level; their contribution to the decisionmaking becomes formal, or degenerates to wishful thinking.
The disappointments over the role of experiments such as the Science Shop, the Colloque national, etc., in developing alternative S & T policies can in our opinion be explained largely in terms of a lack of clarity about the analytical discrepancies among the intellectual and organizational questions involved in the envisaged integration (59).
Notes and References
* No order of seniority implied.
1. Cf. R. D. Whitley, “Black boxism and the sociology of science: a discussion of the major developments in the field”, Sociological Review Monographs 18, 1972, 16—92. See also: H. M. Collins, “The sociology of scientific knowledge: studies of contemporary science”, Ann. Rev. Sociol. 9, 1983, 265—285.
2. R. D. Whitley, The Intellectual and Social Organization of the Sciences. Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1984.
3. E.g.: M. Callon, “Struggles and negotiations to define what is problematic and what is not”, in K. Knorr, R. Krohn, and R. Whitley (eds.), The Social Process of Scientific Investigation, Sociology of the Sciences Yearbooks, VI. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1980; K. Knorr, The Manufacture of Knowledge: An Essay on the Constructivist and Contextual Nature of Science. New York: Pergamon Press, 1981. See also: S. Woolgar, “Interests and explanation in the social study of science”, Social Studies of Science 11, 1981,365—394.
4. See e.g.: M. Cooley, Architect or Bee. Slough: Langley Technical Service, 1980; LO, Forskning for arbete och demokrati, Stockholm: Tidens Förlag, 1982; P. LowBeer, Industrie und GlOck, Berlin: Klaus Wagenbach, 1981. See also: L. Leydesdorff and P. Van den Besselaar, “Squeezed between capital and technology. On the participation of labour in the knowledge society”, Acta Sociologica (forthcoming).
5. E.g.: E. Altvater, “Produktivkraft Wissenschaft?”, in E. Altvater and F. Huiskens (eds.), Materiallen zur Politischen Oekonomie des Ausbildungssektors. Erlangen:
6. H. Marcuse, One-dimensional Man. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964, pp. 22f. See also:
R. Richta et al., Politische Oekonomie des 20. Jahrhunderts, Prague/Frankfurt a.M.: Makol, 1968.
7. J. Habermas, Technik und Wissenschaft als ‘Ideologie’, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp,
1968; J. Habermas, Erkenntnis und Interesse, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1968; L. Althusser, Pour Marx, Paris: Maspero, 1965.
8. S. Mallet, La nouvelle classe ouvrière, Paris, 1963.
9. H. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital. The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York/London: Monthly Review Press, 1974.
10. See for empirical work e.g.: D. Gallie, In Search of the New Working Class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
11. In 1973, at the Congress of the Scientific Workers League B.W.A., Arie Groeneveldt, the Chairman of the Industrial Workers’ League — the largest Dutch union of that time — explicitly turned down the offer of external expertise, with the sole exception of expertise on health hazards from chemicals. BWA-Ledenbrief 5, 1973/1, 9f.
12. BWA, “Instituten voor Maatschappelijk Gericht Onderzoek”, Wetenschap & Samenleving, 1977/1, 125.
13. The government had supported the idea of alternative research facilities for public interest groups in a 1976 Green Paper on so-called Sector Councils for Science Policy. In these councils, the users of scientific results, government officials and researchers would advise on research priorities. However, in the changing economic climate of those days, the official policies were more and more reluctant to follow the “left of centre” university policies elaborating these ideas.
14. L. Leydesdorff, “Trade unions and university research-policy”, Higher Education and Research in the Netherlands 24, 1980, nr. 3/4. 54—58; L. Leydesdorff, A. Teulings, P. Ulenbelt, “Trade union participation in university research policies”, International Journal of Institutional Management in Higher Education 8, 1984/2,
15. T. Ades, “Holland’s science shops for ‘made-to-measure’ research”, Nature 281,
18 October 1979; L. Leydesdorff et al., Philips en de Wetenschap, Amsterdam:
SUA, 1980. See also: L. Leydesdorff and H. van Erkelens, “Some social-psychological aspects of becoming a physicist”, Scientometrics 3, 1981, 27—46.
16. L. Leydesdorff and S. Zeldenrust, “Technological change and trade unions”, Research Policy 13, 1984, 153—164; Leydesdorff, Van den Besselaar, op. cit., 1986. Note 4.
17. Leydesdorffet al., op. cit., 1984. Note 14.
18. L. Leydesdorff, Werknemers en het Technologisch Vernieuwingsbeleid, Amersfoort: De Horstink, 1984.
19. D. Mowery, N. Rosenberg, “The influence of market demand upon innovation. A critical review of some recent empirical studies”, Research Policy 8, 1979, 102—
20. J. Langrish, M. Gibbons, W. G. Evans and F. R. Jevons, Wealth from Knowledge. New York: Halsted/John Wiley, 1972, p. 57.
21. Moweryetal.,op. cit., 1979. Note 19,147—153.
22. Among others: R. R. Nelson and S. G. Winter, “In search of a useful theory of innovation”, Research Policy 6, 1977, 36—76; G. Dosi, “Technological paradigms and technological trajectories”, Research Policy 11, 1982, 147—162; M. Teubal, “On user needs and need determination: Aspects of the theory of technological innovation”, in M. J. Baker (ed), Industrial Innovation. Technology, Policy, Diffiesion, London, etc.: Macmillan Press, 1979, 226—289. See for the dynamics of technological trajectories also: D. Sahal, “Technological guideposts and innovation avenues”, Research Policy 14,1985,61—82.
23. Dosi, op. cit., 1982. Note 22,160.
24. N. Rosenberg, “The direction of technological change: Inducement mechanisms and focusing devices”, Economic Development and Cultural Change. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1969.
25. Braverman, op. cit., 1974. Note 15. See also: ‘Technology, the labor process and the working class”, Monthly Review 28, 1976; D. F. Noble, “Social choice in machine design: The case of automatically controlled machine tools, and a challenge for labor”, Politics and Society 8, 1978, 313—347.
26. Leydesdorff and Van den Besselaar, op. cit., 1986. Note 4.
27. R. R. Nelson (ed.), Government and Technical Progress. New York etc.: Pergamon Press, 1982.
28. Cf. K. Fridjonsdottr, “Social change, trade unions and sociology of work”, elsewhere in this volume.
29. See also: R. Eyerman, J. Cramer and A. Jamison, “The knowledge interests of the environmental movement and the potential for influencing the development of science”, elsewhere in this volume.
30. 0. Böhme, Alternative der Wissenschaft. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1980.
31. A. Giddens, New Rules of Sociological Method. London: Hutchinson, 1976, 15ff.; R. Bhaskar, The Possibility of Naturalism. A Philosophical Critique of the Contemporary Human Sciences. Sussex: Harvester Press, 1979, 31ff.
32. H. Nowotny and H. Rose (eds.), Counter-movements in the Sciences: The Sociology of the Alternatives to Big Science. Sociology of the Sciences Yearbooks, 3,
33. Leydesdorffetal., op. cit., 1984. Note 16.
34. D. Dickson, The New Politics of Science. New York: Pantheon, 1984; R. W.
Schmitt, Continuity and Change in the U.S. Research System, Washington D.C.:
School of Public Policy, George Washington University, 1985. Occasional Papers
35. R. Rothwell, and W. Zegveld, Reindu.strialization and Technology. London: Longman,
36. See for an elaboration of the Philips-example: Leydesdorff et al., op cit., 1980. Note 15.
37. Cooley, op. cit., 1980. Note 4.
38. We have to make an exception for one case in which we are not sure what caused the deterioration of working conditions which in turn gave rise to that workers’ plan. See for further details: Leydesdorff and Van den Besselaar, op. cit., 1986. Note 4.
39. E. Mumford and D. Henshall, A Participative Approach to Computer Systems Design. London: Associated Business Press, 1979; U. Briefs, C. Ciborra and L. Schneider (eds.), System Design For, With and By the Users. Amsterdam: North Holland, 1983.
40. A. Bequai, The Cashless Society. EFTS at the Crossroads. New York: John Wiley,
41. R. KJing, “Value conflicts and social choice in electronic funds transfer system developments”, Comm. ACM 21, 1978, 8; K. King and K. Kreamer, “EFTS as a subject of study in technology, society and public policy”, Telecommunications Policy 2,1978,3.
42. “Employment legislation, trade union pressure and the banks’ own recruitment policies will place constraints on the ability of the banks to change the number and type of staff they employ. (. . .) Banks who solve this problem will establish a competitive edged over their rivals. The whole area of manpower planning will present a major challenge to European banks in the 1980’s.” Pactel, Automation in European Banking. 1979—1990, Management Summary, 1980,6.
43. In Holland, the Post Office has also its own R & D facility (the Dr. Neher Laboratories) which performs R & D at very high standards.
44. Stuurgroep Integratie Giroverkeer, Onderzoek Voorontwerp Nationaal Betalingscircuit met gebruikmaking van het openbare datanet DN-1, Amsterdam: De Nederlandse Bank, 1980.
45. G. M. Dobrov, “Systems assessment of new technology in decisionmaking in government and industry”, IIASA Working paper. Laxenburg. Austria, 1977, 77—8.
46. W. van Gelder, Automatisering de Baas. Woerden: Dienstenbond FNV, 1983.
47. A. Ruiter, De werkgelegenheidskonsekwenties van het NBC. Woerden: Dienstenbond FNV, 1983. The figures are only indicative of the differences. Because with every discussion in the Parlimentary Committee new and higher figures became available, both the Steering Group and we had to adjust the estimates in each report. See for further details: P. Van den Besselaar, “Trade Unions and EFFS” (in preparation).
48. E. J. Kirchner, N. Hewlett and F. Sobirey, Report on the Social Implications of Introducing New Technology in the Banking Sector. Luxembourg: Official Publications of the European Communities, 1984.
49. Pactel, op. cit., 1980. Note 42.
50. This example is also mentioned in H. Levie and R. Moore (eds.), The Control of Frontiers. Workers and New Technology; Disclosure and Use of Company Information. Oxford: Ruskin College, 1984. See for an elaboration: A. van Asch, Case studie Nederlandse Middenstandsbank: automatisering, werknemersbelangen en bedrijfsinformatie. Amsterdam: FNV, 1985, 93.
51. In Leydesdorff and Van den Besselaar (op. cit., 1986. Note 4) we distinguished between two meanings of ‘technological determinism: (i) technological development is a determined process, and (ii) technologies determine their social consequences themselves. Our point here is, that for labour technologies cannot be influenced in the first sense, but that there still is room left to influence the social consequences of new technologies.
52. Nelson, op. cit., 1982. Note 27.
53. See for our more political conclusions: Leydesdorff, Van den Besselaar, op. cit., 1986. Note 4.
54. Cf. Fridjonsdottr, op. cit., 1987. Note 32. See also: P. C. Schmitter and 6. Lehmbruch (eds.), Trends toward Corporatist Intermediation. London: Sage, 1979.
55. S. Böker, P. Ehn, S. Romberger and D. Sjören (eds.), Graffiti. The UTOPIA Project. Stockholm/Aarhus: Swedish Center for Working Life, etc., 1984. See also:
P. Ehn, M. Kyng, Y. Sundblad et al., “The UTOPIA Project” in Briefs et al. (eds.), op. cit., 1983. Note 39.
56. As has been said, we may have to make an exception for those specialties which focus on man-machine interactions in a very strict sense, such as “systems design”, “quality of VDUs” and “health and safety” issues, because these issues can be dealt with without affecting strategic decisions about technologies.
57. “It would be possible to write quite a history of inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class”. K. Marx, Capital I. Moscow, 1961, p. 436. See also: Rosenberg, op. cit., 1969. Note 24; Noble, op. cit., 1978. Note 25.
58. Nelson, op. cit., 1982. Note 27.
59. See also: L. Leydesdorff, “The development of frames of references”, Scientometrics 9, 1986, 103—125.