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What Machines Can't Do

Politics and Technology in the Industrial Enterprise

Robert J. Thomas (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN: 9780520087019
March 1994
$33.95, £28.00
Virtually every manufacturing company has plans for an automated "factory of the future." But Robert J. Thomas argues that smart machines may not hold the key to an industrial renaissance. In this provocative and enlightening book, he takes us inside four successful manufacturing enterprises to reveal the social and political dynamics that are an integral part of new production technology. His interviews with nearly 300 individuals, from top corporate executives to engineers to workers and union representatives, give his study particular credibility and offer surprising insights into the organizational power struggles that determine the form and performance of new technologies.

Thomas urges managers not to put blind hopes into smarter machines but to find smarter ways to organize people. As U.S. companies battle for survival in an era of growing global competition, What Machines Can't Do is an invaluable treatise on the ways we organize work. While its call for change is likely to be controversial, it will also attract anyone who wishes to understand the full impact of new technology on jobs, organizations, and the future of the industrial enterprise.
Robert J. Thomas is Professor of Organizational Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is the author of Citizenship, Gender, and Work: Social Organization of Industrial Agriculture (California, 1985).
"Anyone who journeys through What Machines Can't Do is going to [become] much more sophisticated about the sociology of introducing new technologies into existing organizations."—Lester C. Thurow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"A compelling case for rethinking why and how new technologies are introduced into organizations. With its graphic accounts and insider detail, he shows that when it comes to technology and politics, one cannot be understood apart from the other. What Machines Can't Do is one of those special books that fundamentally alters how one looks at the engines of corporate change."—Michael Useem, University of Pennsylvania

"An extraordinary achievement. Robert J. Thomas not only provides intimately detailed studies of the introduction of new technologies in large companies in four major industries. In the power-process framework, he provides us with a new theoretical approach that seems to me superior to other frameworks for the study of technological changes. For practitioners in industry, this book suggests ways of reorganizing the new technology introduction process so that workers and managers in manufacturing play more creative roles than is possible when they are considered as simply implementors of what others have designed for them."—William F. Whyte, Research Director, Programs for Employment and Workplace Systems,Cornell University

"This is one of the few books I have seen in reent years that is a genuine advance in business scholarship. For over ten years now, American business has been trying to achieve greater 'integration' across the separate components of the internal organization and between the organization and suppliers, customer, and clients outside. The results of these efforts have been disappointing. Here is a book that, for the first time, explains why. It may not be the last work on the subject, but all subsequent work will build upon these results and will have to come to terms with its argument."—Michael J. Piore, MIT

"These are the best cases I know of for giving students a feel for the complex dynamics of technological change and organizational power in industry. The cases are especially credible because of the clear writing and the unobtrusive theoretical guidance. It is not news that technology is socially shaped, but this presentation is more dramatic, more subtle, and more satisfying than the conventional literature."—Charles Perrow,Yale University

"This sophisticated, readable book . . . combines terrific original field research with a grand feat of theoretical synthesis."—Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University

1994 C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems

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