manual and non-manual labour

manual and non-manual labour

the distinction between physical (manual or BLUE-COLLAR WORKERS) and mental (non-manual or WHITE-COLLAR WORKERS). OCCUPATIONAL SCALES typically employ the distinction as a basic measure of SOCIAL CLASS, It is important, however, to bear in mind that while these widely used scales broadly reflect the view that manual labour is ‘working class’ and mental labour ‘middle class’, this does not hold true for Marxist analyses, where class position is considered in terms of relations of power and the functions of different occupations vis-à-vis the process of CAPITAL ACCUMULATION (see CLASS, CLASS BOUNDARIES). Neither should it be assumed that the manual or non-manual content of occupations is fixed. Indeed, prior to the emergence of factory-based production systems, both elements were fused in the work of craftsmen and women. As craft labour was fragmented into discrete operations undertaken by factory workers, the mental or ‘planning’ element involved in the LABOUR PROCESS was removed and relocated at a supervisory level. This was the explicit aim of SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT. Today, technological change (see NEW TECHNOLOGY) continues to alter the nature of work, converting many former manual tasks (e.g. in the print industry) to white-collar work which involves the processing of information rather than the manipulation of things. In this sense, the shifting divide between manual and non-manual work is connected to the POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY thesis, and to the emergence of post-Fordism (see FORDISM AND POST-FORDISM). In so far as some of these developments may involve JAPANIZATION, the ‘re-empowerment’ of manual workers may actually involve the restoration of‘mental’ elements to their work. See INTELLECTUAL LABOUR, MIDDLE CLASS(ES), WHITE-COLLAR WORKER, WORKING CLASS, PROLETARIANIZATION.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000