Date of Award

Fall 1995

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Bruce Elmslie


While the de-skilling of work may involve many facets, including task simplification and the degradation of manual skills, this dissertation focuses specifically on the loss of control by workers over the organization and direction ("conception") of their own work. This focus is consistent with Harry Braverman's (1974) seminal argument that the "pivot" of capitalist management, and the core of the de-skilling thesis, is the separation of the conception of work from its execution.

Employee participation strategies whereby workers exercise discretion over the organization and conduct of work are contrary to the de-skilling thesis. But their existence is compatible with post-Braverman analysis in which worker resistance and new technologies may result in de-skilling for some workers yet en-skilling for others.

Enhanced profitability and competitive position has been a documented result of employee participation. Therefore, explaining why, in a competitive economy, we do not find greater use of employee participation is a problem--one which reflects the generally unsettled analysis of the contemporary labor process.

The effect of information technology on employee participation is one of the unsettled issues. Different perspectives on this issue are developed in this dissertation through (1) an analysis of the de-skilling concepts in the history of economic thought, (2) an interpretation of the labor process under an indeterminist methodological perspective, and (3) an evaluation of the effect of information technology on worker-management trust.

I conclude that the writers in the history of economic thought documented and established theoretical support for a thesis of de-skilling technological change. Information was considered a crucial resource by which the power of a dominant group over a subordinate group could be enhanced. Information technology was viewed as a method by which to displace and control labor. Arguments that the capitalist system would evolve so as to foster en-skilling were plentiful but lacked any rigorous theoretical foundation.

Incorporation of an indeterminist methodology supports the theory that differential skill trajectories and organizational control strategies can co-exist. However, these results do not simply reflect differential responses by management to the challenges of supervising and monitoring workers. More importantly, they reflect different requirements of organizational learning under different degrees of uncertainty.

Finally, I conclude that widespread sharing of information and egalitarian access to a firm's information increase the level of trust in the organization, thus tending to support the sustainability of employee participation.