Technological Change as a Social Process: A Case Study of Office Automation in a Manufacturing Plant

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Abstract

As new computer technology moves into more and more workplaces, the study of its potential impacts on workers and their work is becoming increasingly common. However, such research is often weakened by a too-narrow conception of technology and technological change as primarily a technical issue. In fact, it is impossible to abstract the “impacts” of technology from the dense web of social relations and the complex milieu surrounding technology's design and use.

this article describes a different approach to studying technological change as a social and cultural process. Using ethnographic principles and methods, it reports on the key social and organizational issues surrounding the implementation of a complex computer system at a small manufacturing plant. It also argues that this ethnographic approach has special promise for helping work organizations analyze and understand their experiences with technological change.

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