What is changing in work - everything! But not necessarily because of technology.

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Fri, 08/18/2017 - 09:59

The third edition of the biannual WORK conference, titled WORK 2017 organised by the Turku Centre for Labour Studies, University of Turku and SWiPE research consortium in Turku, Finland has collected together an impressive multidisciplinary crowd of people interested in the study of work.

Much of the talk has been about technology, competences (also with a presentation from the DiWIL project based at Åbo Akademi University), well-being, organisation, and what I have been glad to notice, a considerable number of reflections and empirical findings on the experience of change in workplaces. In this process, as Peter Levin, one of the many excellent keynotes of the conference, noted that the role of social scientists is crucial but also that social science left behind if it does not reinvent itself to be sensitive to where the social life takes place and how it can be studied.

Many presenters highlighted different aspects of how change is already here and how it is much less a technological than an institutional question, a not-entirely-new, but very important observation underlined already in the first keynote by Marina Gorbis of IFTF. Technology provides means to do things differently but both the actual opportunities to do things and the inertia that makes technology difficult to accept, use or refuse are influenced by the institutionalised legacy assumptions we take for granted and fail to realise what is important for us as human-beings and what are the opportunities and threats of new technologies and processes to them. Instead, people have a tendency to focus on how technology and new organisational models affect traditional ways of doing things. This leads to failures to focus on 20th century models of waged labour instead of focussing on defining and providing everyone ingredients for a decent life, or as I discussed in my own presentation (affiliated with ARKDIS and DiWIL projects) on the public'ness of information work organised according to public monopolies, market-based mechanisms and their hybrids, that instead of trying to manage the production of material information artefacts, a more pertinent question could be to think about the relation of the modes of producing the artefacts and their implications to their functioning and nature in the wild. In the case of my study, the question was how the organisation of archaeological work as public or private activity affects the public'ness of the entire enterprise rather than how some of the practical work within it is conducted.