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.
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
Interests: sociology of work; human-machine-interaction; technology assessment; critical theory
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Interests: training; employment
Interests: human resource management; responsible HRM and leadership; HRM- employee attitudes (performance linkage in business, public and health care sectors)
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” .
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 , 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 , 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 . Facing global challenges such as the “limits of growth” , the increasing social polarization  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 . 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.
- How can the “notion” of automatization theoretically be described today?
- Which economic, political and ethical challenges are faced when reflecting on automatization processes?
- Which social conditions are emerging through an extended process of automation throughout most working environments (in the positive and negative senses)?
- Is there any economic evidence of improved productivity or performance in organizations derived from the increased automation processes in their workflows?
- Which new forms of human resource management or labor relations can be expected with the intensification of automation?
- It is possible that working time will decrease, on average, with a major investment in automatization technologies? Which trends are expected?
- 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
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