Special Issue "Socio-technical Dimensions of Automation of Work - Future Visions Matter"

A special issue of Societies (ISSN 2075-4698).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 August 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. António B. Moniz
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. Observatory of Technology Assessment, CICS.NOVA, Campus Campolide, 1070-312 Lisboa, Portugal
2. Faculty of Sciences and Technology, University Nova Lisbon, Campus Caparica, 2829-516 Caparica, Portugal
Interests: sociology of technology; human-robot interaction; sociology of work; social implications of automation
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Dr. Bettina-Johanna Krings
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, 76021 Karlsruhe, Germany
Interests: sociology of work; human-machine-interaction; technology assessment; critical theory
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Oriol Homs
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Notus: Applied Social Research, Barcelona 16, 08003, Spain
Interests: training; employment
Prof. Dr. Ilona Bučiūnienė
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
ISM, University of Management and Economics, Vilnius LT-01305, Lithuania
Interests: human resource management; responsible HRM and leadership; HRM- employee attitudes (performance linkage in business, public and health care sectors)
Prof. Dr. Csaba Makó
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Institute of the Information Society, University of Public Service, Budapest 1083, Hungary
Interests: work organisation; knowledge society; social risks; higher education

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Modern automation technologies such as numerically-controlled (NC) machine-tools, intelligent sensors, auto-guided vehicles, collaborative robotic systems etc. will not only change the socio-technical environments of production in “traditional” sectors such as agriculture, mining, production and logistics. Future visions of advanced technological approaches that use artificial intelligence (AI) are foreseen to be introduced in different societal sectors such as medicine and health care or even in education. Here, according to numerous political and scientific programs, AI should not only deeply change the modes of “productivity” but also the modes of communication interrelation and the performing of tasks by the strong adaptation of human–machine interaction (HMI) into complex working environments (work can be defined as labor: “Labor is the amount of physical, mental, and social effort used to produce goods and services in an economy. It supplies the expertise, manpower, and service needed to turn raw materials into finished products and services. In return, laborers receive a wage to buy the goods and services they don't produce themselves. Those without desired skills or abilities often don't even get paid a living wage. Many countries have a minimum wage to make sure their workers earn enough to cover the costs of living” (https://www.thebalance.com/labor-definition-types-and-how-it-affects-the-economy-3305859, 06.07.2020). A discussion on the topic can be followed at H. Magdoff (2006), The Meaning of Work: A Marxist Perspective, Monthly Review, Vol. 58, No. 5 (https://monthlyreview.org/2006/10/01/the-meaning-of-work-a-marxist-perspective/, 13.07.2020)). Furthermore, these developments go hand in hand with the digitalization of daily life where the blurring of the boundaries between work and life is still increasing due to the options of digital technologies. These blurring boundaries form more and more the background for future models of work, where “smart” or “intelligent” frameworks form the normative idea of “work 4.0” [1].

However, behind these developments, there is another trend that will be highlighted in this Special Issue: the ongoing process of automation. The impulse for the actual debate of automation at the work level was initiated by the study of [2], where the authors provided a scenario of technical unemployment in the US based on technical automation dynamics. This study had a huge resonance in political and societal debate, raising the (old) new question with regard to the connection of technical innovations and its impact on labor markets [3,4]. Although the issues and results of that study have been strongly criticized due to the study’s methodology [5], their hypothesis of (technical) options to further automatize working processes will become a real scenario for the next decades [6,7]. One strong critical issue was the impracticality of assigning the empirical results for the U.S. context to other countries without taking institutional and political settings into account [8,9]. At least in highly industrialized societies, the mere trend towards “technical unemployment” should be assessed at the macro and micro levels in order to obtain a comprehensive picture of the impact of automation processes. Historical evidence has shown that there was an evolution of new labor markets and new occupations (an occupation can be defined as “a set of jobs whose main tasks and duties are characterized by a high degree of similarity”, according to the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO). Under the same International Labor Organization resolution, a “job is defined as a set of tasks and duties performed” (https://www.ilo.org/public/english/bureau/stat/isco/docs/resol08.pdf, 10.07.2020)) on the macro scale. However, on the quantitative long-term scale, a huge number of jobs disappeared such as in agriculture or handicraft [10]. Facing global challenges such as the “limits of growth” [11], the increasing social polarization [12] and the discrepancy between formal and informal work worldwide, it is clear that the objective of steadily increasing productivity by automation should be called into question.

Following this critical perspective, this Special Issue of the journal “Societies” will discuss the concept of the (technical) automation of working environments from an interdisciplinary perspective. Hereby, the socio-technical trends of automation, the “normal” routines of continuous automatization and the impact of automation on working conditions will be determined theoretically and empirically.

Hereby, the hypothesis of Frey and Osborne of “technical unemployment” will be the guiding hypothesis of the Special Issue. Taking the normative concept of the redistribution of wealth into consideration, automation processes are foreseen to provide the basis for new models of work and life [13]. Those visions have to be developed, consequently, with regard to new social, ecological and economic working models. AI and digital technologies will certainly play an important role in these visions but certainly should not be the normative enabler of these developments.


  1. How can the “notion” of automatization theoretically be described today?
  2. Which economic, political and ethical challenges are faced when reflecting on automatization processes?
  3. Which social conditions are emerging through an extended process of automation throughout most working environments (in the positive and negative senses)?
  4. Is there any economic evidence of improved productivity or performance in organizations derived from the increased automation processes in their workflows?
  5. Which new forms of human resource management or labor relations can be expected with the intensification of automation?
  6. It is possible that working time will decrease, on average, with a major investment in automatization technologies? Which trends are expected?
  7. How are automatization processes influencing the blurring of the boundaries of work and life?

We very much invite contributions for papers (articles, conceptual papers or reviews) to be published in this journal addressing the topic of the Special Issue, until February 2021.


  • Bundesministerum für Soziales und Arbeit (Federal Ministry for Labor and Social Affairs, Germany) (2017): White Paper Work 4.0. Arbeit weiter denken. Berlin.
  • Frey, C. B., and Osborne, M. A. (2013): The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, Oxford: The Oxford Martin School.
  • Autor, Levy and Murnane (2003), The Skill Content of Recent Technological Change: An Empirical Exploration, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 118, no. 4, pp. 1279–1333.
  • Brynjolfsson, E. and McAfee, A. (2011), The Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy; Digital Frontier Press: Lexington, KY.
  • Arntz, M., Gregory, T. and Zierahn, U. (2016), The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris. Available online: http://0-dx.doi.org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.1787/5jlz9h56dvq7-en.
  • Pfeiffer, S. (2016), Robots, Industry 4.0 and Humans, or Why Assembly Work Is More than Routine Work. Societies, 6, 16.
  • Acemoglu, D. and Restrepo, P. (2019), Automation and New Tasks: How technology displaces and reinstates labor, IZA Discussion Paper Series, No. 12293, April, 66 pp.
  • Srnicek, N. and Williams, A. (2015): Inventing the Future. Postcapitalism and a World Without Work; Verso Books: London.
  • Hodgson, G. M. (2016), The Future of Work in the Twenty-First Century, Journal of Economic Issues, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 197–216.
  • Moniz, A. B. and Krings, B.-J. (2016) Robots Working with Humans or Humans Working with Robots? Searching for Social Dimensions in New Human-Robot Interaction in Industry, Societies, vol. 6(3), p. 23.
  • Meadows, D. H.; Meadows, D. L.; Randers, J.; Behrens, W. (1972): The Limits of Growth; Universe Books: Washington DC.
  • Huws, U. (2007): Defragmenting: towards a critical understanding of the new global division of labour, Work organization, labour & globalization, Volume 1, Number 2, p. 1–14.
  • Mason, P. (2015): PostCapitalism: A guide to our future, London: Penguin.

Prof. Dr. António B. Moniz
Dr. Bettina-Johanna Krings
Prof. Dr. Oriol Homs
Prof. Dr. Ilona Bučiūnienė
Prof. Dr. Csaba Makó
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as conceptual papers are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a double-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Societies is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1200 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Published Papers (2 papers)

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Jump to: Review

Visions of Automation: A Comparative Discussion of Two Approaches
Societies 2021, 11(2), 63; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/soc11020063 - 16 Jun 2021
Viewed by 348
In recent years, fears of technological unemployment have (re-)emerged strongly in public discourse. In response, policymakers and researchers have tried to gain a more nuanced understanding of the future of work in an age of automation. In these debates, it has become common [...] Read more.
In recent years, fears of technological unemployment have (re-)emerged strongly in public discourse. In response, policymakers and researchers have tried to gain a more nuanced understanding of the future of work in an age of automation. In these debates, it has become common practice to signal expertise on automation by referencing a plethora of studies, rather than limiting oneself to the careful discussion of a small number of selected papers whose epistemic limitations one might actually be able to grasp comprehensively. This paper addresses this shortcoming. I will first give a very general introduction to the state of the art of research on potentials for automation, using the German case as an example. I will then provide an in-depth analysis of two studies of the field that exemplify two competing approaches to the question of automatability: studies that limit themselves to discussing technological potentials for automation on the one hand, and macroeconomic scenario methods that claim to provide more concrete assessments of the connection between job losses (or job creation) and technological innovation in the future on the other. Finally, I will provide insight into the epistemic limitations and the specific vices and virtues of these two approaches from the perspective of critical social theory, thereby contributing to a more enlightened and reflexive debate on the future of automation. Full article


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Understanding Technological Unemployment: A Review of Causes, Consequences, and Solutions
Societies 2021, 11(2), 50; https://0-doi-org.brum.beds.ac.uk/10.3390/soc11020050 - 21 May 2021
Viewed by 484
Many studies have focused on estimating the impact of automation on work around the world with results ranging widely. Despite the disagreement about the level of impact that automation will have, experts agree that new technologies tend to be applied to every economic [...] Read more.
Many studies have focused on estimating the impact of automation on work around the world with results ranging widely. Despite the disagreement about the level of impact that automation will have, experts agree that new technologies tend to be applied to every economic sector, thus impacting work regardless of substituting or complementing it. The purpose of this study is to move on from the discussion about the size of the impact of automation to understanding the main social impacts that automation will cause and what actions should be taken to deal with them. For this purpose, we reviewed literature about technological unemployment found in Scopus and Web of Science published since 2000, presenting an academic view of the actions necessary to deal with the social impact of automation. Our results summarize causes, consequences, and solutions for the technological unemployment found in the literature. We also found that the literature is mainly concentrated on the areas of economy, sociology, and philosophy, with the authors situated in developed economies such as the USA, Europe, and New Zealand. Finally, we present the research agenda proposed by the reviewed papers that could motivate new research on the subject. Full article
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