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      Pluto Journals
      automation, Luddites, racial minorities, women


            It is argued that neither David Noble's call for a new Luddism on the part of workers nor Andre Gorz' reliance on the emergence of a “non-class of non-workers” provides an adequate strategy for resisting problematic uses of automation. Instead, their differing emphases present us with an old dilemma: How to avoid utopianism (where a vision of the future floats above history) without falling into a problematic conservatism (where present interests simply reflect the status quo). In the concluding sections it is argued that an effective resistance can be developed only if traditional worker constituencies enter into an alliance with movements for racial and sexual equality.


            Author and article information

            Critical Studies in Innovation
            Pluto Journals
            December 1989
            : 7
            : 2
            : 273-291
            8629074 Prometheus, Vol. 7, No. 2, 1989: pp. 273–291
            Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

            Page count
            Figures: 0, Tables: 0, References: 47, Pages: 19
            Original Articles

            Computer science,Arts,Social & Behavioral Sciences,Law,History,Economics
            Luddites,automation,racial minorities,women


            1. Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Player Piano, Dell Publishing, New York, 1952, pp. 261–2.

            2. ibid., p. 283.

            3. ibid., p. 295.

            4. ibid., pp. 179–80. Here as in so many places, Vonnegut exhibits a remarkable prescience. His barber was sure that it would be only a matter of time before engineers would be able to robotise hair-cutting. Developments in Australia suggest he was right. Tremendous progress has been made of late in robotising sheep-shearing, a process that presents at least some of the same design problems as a robot barber.

            5. For a recent account of how unemployment has negatively affected the use of ‘free time’ in a former mining community in Scotland, see Donald Leach and Howard Wagstaff, Future Employment and Technological Change, Kogan Page, London, 1986, Chapter 7.

            6. In fact, one of the leaders of the attempt at resistance characterises the revolutionary project as getting back to basic values: “Men doing men's work, women doing women's work.” (p. 259).

            7. David Noble, ‘Present tense technology’, published in three parts in Democracy, Part I, Spring 1983, pp. 8–24; Part II, Summer 1983, pp. 70–82; Part III, Fall 1983, pp. 71–93. Republished as Automation: Progress Without People, Singlejack Books, San Pedro, Calif., 1989.

            8. Andre Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class: An Essay in Post-Industrial Socialism, South End Press, Boston, 1980.

            9. Byron's speech to the House of Lords is quoted at length in Noble, op. cit., Part III, pp. 71–2. He also quotes Byron's even stronger defense of the Luddites, Ode to the framers of the Frame Bill’, p. 88.

            10. Noble, op. cit., Part I, p. 8.

            11. ibid., p. 10.

            12. ibid., p. 24.

            13. ibid., p. 12.

            14. Noble, op. cit., Part III, p. 84. Noble goes on to relate a specific case, which he calls “one of the more innovative, and symbolic, acts of displeasure with the new technology”, as follows: “In May of this year, a manager noticed that a word processor was not functioning properly. Upon closer inspection, he discovered that the screen and keyboard of the machine were saturated with urine. (Apparently, this readily available substance has the same effect on computer equipment as tea, coffee, Coke, and iron powder.) With characteristic paranoia, the Justice Department management collected a sample of the offending fluid and dispatched it at once to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, presumably in an effort to track down the resourceful operator. All they were able to learn, however, was that the subject was female and free of social diseases.” (p. 86).

            15. Noble, op. cit., Part I, pp. 10–11; Part III, pp. 91–2.

            16. Lawrence Cossé, (ed.), The Revolution of Choosing Your Time Schedule, Echanges et Projects, Paris, 1980. Quoted in Gorz, op. cit., p. 137.

            17. Gorz, op. cit., p. 126.

            18. Andre Gorz, Paths to Paradise: On the Liberation from Work, South End Press, Boston, 1985, p. 31.

            19. ibid., p. 31. Gorz develops the notion of a ‘South-Africanization’ of advanced capitalist societies in ‘The American model and the future of the Left’, Telos, 64, Summer 1985, pp. 117–21.

            20. ibid., p. 32.

            21. ibid.

            22. Gorz has many interesting things to say about how to maintain the proper balance between what he calls the ‘sphere of autonomy’ and ‘the sphere of necessity’. While the sphere of autonomy, where “the individual is the sovereign author of actions carried out without recourse to necessity”, should be prevalent, it cannot embrace everything. To deny this last leads to a “pseudo-morality” which “by seeking to eliminate everything that cannot be produced, planned and controlled by sovereign individuals themselves, forces them into one of two equally untenable positions. In the one instance individuals pretend to work by their own free will realities which in fact are beyond their control and possible self-determination. Alternatively, by wilfully ignoring the outside world, individuals abandon all control over the way their ideal community is inserted into and utilized by the dominant social order”. Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class, op. cit., pp. 93–4; see also Gorz, Paths to Paradise, op. cit. pp. 64–77.

            23. Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class, op. cit., pp. 6–7.

            24. ibid., p. 8.

            25. ibid., p. 53.

            26. ibid., p. 64.

            27. ibid., p. 67.

            28. ibid..

            29. ibid., p. 68.

            30. ibid., p. 73.

            31. ibid., p. 11.

            32. Noble, op. cit., Part III, p. 76.

            33. Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class, op. cit., p. 47.

            34. ibid., p. 46.

            35. ibid., pp. 86–7.

            36. Noble, op. cit., Part II, pp. 79–80.

            37. Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class, op. cit., p. 86.

            38. ibid., p. 68.

            39. David Noble, Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation, Alfred Knopf, New York, 1984, p. xiv. It is worth noting that Noble passed up a chance to bring women into his oppositional strategy in connection with the case of computer sabotage mentioned in footnote 14. He might have pursued the significance of the report that the perpetrator was not only disease-free, but a woman.

            40. The author develops the case for such an alliance in Carl G. Hedman, ‘Making the social contract relevant’, Social Theory and Practice, 13, 3, 1987, pp. 327–60.

            41. Sean Sayers, ‘The need to work’, Radical Philosophy, 46, 1987, p. 18.

            42. ibid., p. 19.

            43. William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987, p. 183.

            44. For a recent defence of this claim with regard to women see Diane Werneke, ‘Women: the vulnerable group’, in Tom Forester (ed.), The Information Technology Revolution, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1985, pp. 400–16. For a defence of this claim in connection with inner-city racial minorities, see Wilson, op. cit., pp. 180–1.

            45. Joshua Cohen and Joel Rogers, On Democracy: Toward a Transformation of American Society, Penguin Books, New York, 1983, p. 175.

            46. Ellen Wood, The Retreat from Class: The New ‘True’ Socialism, Verso, London, 1986, p. 199.

            47. For a good summary of the relation between such developments and the erosion of inner-city communities, see Wilson, op. cit., Chapter 2.


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