deskilling

(redirected from deskill)
Also found in: Dictionary.

deskilling

a process of job degradation in which work is progressively fragmented, and stripped of its complexity, discretionary content and knowledge base. The most important exposition of this concept (degradation of work thesis) is found in Braverman's theory of the LABOUR PROCESS based upon MARX. Deskilling is seen as a result of capitalist control of the labour process, in which management, using the principles of SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT, separates conception from execution and increasingly takes control of the labour process away from workers, leaving them with mundane, repetitive tasks. The argument that SKILL levels fall with the development of CAPITALISM and TECHNOLOGY is based upon 19th-century craft work as the model for skilled labour. In this theory, deskilling is a major cause of PROLETARIANIZATION in the class structure, reducing both skilled manual and clerical workers to a homogeneous working class.

In sharp contradiction to theories of the labour process, the thesis of POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY posits a general upgrading of skills based upon INDUSTRIALIZATION. New technology is seen as creating the need for new skills, multi-skilling (polyvalency) and higher levels of qualification and technical expertise to replace the older craft skills of the 19th-century Much of the debate about changing skill levels involves different definitions of skill and different types of evidence. For example, the evidence for skill upgrading has relied upon formal job classification and qualifications, whereas evidence for deskilling has analysed actual skills required in a job.

The deskilling argument has been criticized as deterministic and reliant upon a romanticized picture of the craft worker. Comparative research using CONTINGENCY THEORY has found evidence of both job upgrading and deskilling in different industrial sectors and societies, reflecting different managerial strategies, labour markets and other contingent factors.

At the societal level, it is difficult to assess overall changes in skill levels, since economic restructuring may displace skills in old industries and create new skills in expanding sectors. In addition, whilst certain jobs may be deskilled, workers may not, since they may either be upwardly mobile (e.g. male clerical workers), or move into new jobs requiring higher levels of skill. Nevertheless, widespread empirical evidence for deskilling has been found in both the manufacturing and service sectors with mechanization and computerization. See also SKILL, NEW TECHNOLOGY, INTELLECTUAL LABOUR, FORDISM AND POSTFORDISM, CRAFT APPRENTICESHIP.