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de-skilling

de-skilling A term which summarizes the central ideas of Harry Braverman's Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (1974). His thesis was that capitalist forms of production reduce the cost of labour by breaking down complex work processes into smaller, simpler, and unskilled tasks. This continuous fragmentation process replaces the skilled craft worker by unskilled labour requiring little training, so that jobs in the secondary sector of the labour-market are substituted for jobs in the primary sector. In consequence, wages and employment conditions are pushed down to the lower levels typical of the secondary sector; unemployment and insecure employment become widespread; and people in the de-skilled jobs become alienated from their work.

The thesis has attracted a lot of interest among academic social scientists, especially in Britain, and it has provided the framework for case-study research on work organization and change within workplaces, particularly in the declining manufacturing sector (see P. Thompson , The Nature of Work: An Introduction to Debates on the Labour Process, 1983
, for an overview). Studies based on nationally representative statistics on the workforce tend not to substantiate Braverman's conclusion about the direction of change in the occupational structure and the consequences of a shift away from manufacturing to service-sector industries: while certain skilled occupations are disappearing, others experience skills upgrading, and newer occupations, such as computer programming and systems analysis, expand rapidly. See also DEGRADATION OF WORK THESIS; INDUSTRIAL SECTOR; LABOUR PROCESS; PROLETARIANIZATION; SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT; SKILL.

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