I have enjoyed Harmut Rosa’s writing for some time, ever since first coming across his book, Social Acceleration. Since publishing that book, he has gone on to explore and outline a theory of resonance which is the foundation for this much shorter and more popular book, which also links the idea of resonance to that of (un)controllability.
This is only a short book (117 pages) but it develops both an interesting and coherent argument around these two main concepts and how they interact with each other. The essential thesis is that the humans of modernity have attempted to control the world around them. And controllability is explained through the dimensions of visibility (making the world knowable), reachability (can be reached by people), manageability (bringing the world under control), and usefulness (pressing it into service). By our science, our economic models and our technologies we further our quest for controllability .
But, Rosa argues, in some contexts this has led to a dampening or even complete loss of resonance. He defines resonance as the result of four ways in which we engage with the world. Firstly being affected, through engagement with another person, or standing before a landscape, this is being inwardly touched or moved by the interaction with the world. Secondly, self-efficacy, as resonance only begins when this affect leads to our own active response to create a relation. This leads to the third element, adaptive transformation. When we interact with another person, a book, or an idea, we are transformed by it, leaving us as a different person. Such resonant relationships change us and the world around us, where as those that do not have this feature lead to what Rosa calls a ‘relation of relationlessness’. Finally, and the element which links to the title of the book, resonance is uncontrollable. We cannot plan for it or force it. We cannot, standing in front of a work of art, trigger resonance just by wishing it. Resonance is critical in developing meaningful experiences both with others and ourselves. Where there is a lack of resonance there is a lack of ability to connect with the world.
The book then follows this paradox between modernity and its wish to control, and the need for uncontrollability in resonance. It considers this at both personal and social levels. Although brief, this discussion includes a reflection on education and the paradox between attempting to control the process through ever greater measurement, overbearing management of the curriculum, and a constant drive for ever greater ‘efficiency’, all present aspects of the English education system. However, this pushes out the opportunity for resonance amongst children, of paramount importance if they are to feel something, if they are to connect with their education.
This is obviously only a brief and partial review of this book. It is exceptionally rich in its conceptual endeavour, and in the large-scale argument it is making. I would say that this is an absolute must read if you have any interest in possible reasons for the current socio-political issues we face and how we might be able to move forward in a more positive direction. A fantastic book on which I’ll reflect for some time.
Garvey Berger, J. (2019) Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to thrive in complexity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
The world of leadership is awash with ‘self-help’ how to do leadership styles of book, and generally I tend to steer clear of them as they often appear to be based on a form of ill-evidenced ‘Californian psycho-babble’ with little actual concrete grounding in leadership or organisations. However, when I saw this book online I really wanted to know more, mainly because as someone who embeds much of their thinking in complexity theory, the title seemed interesting.
Once I had the book in front of me it became very evident very quickly that in actual fact this book does not make explicit use of complexity theory at all, but uses it in a more ‘things are quite complicated’ kind of a way, and given the difficulties of good leadership, what can we do to make the task better/easier. Stylistically it is quite a ‘light’ book, and mainly uses reflections and ideas from the author’s experiences of working with leaders. It also uses a made-up story of some characters which appears in each chapter, dramatising some of the main points which are made. I personally find this kind of storytelling rather false, and by the middle of the book tended to skate over them, though I have no doubt that this style will resonate with some readers. Thankfully, the story elements are in a different font to the main body of the text so it is easy to move on if this isn’t your bag!
The book is centred on five habits or approaches to leadership which can lead to narrowing thinking or which can trip us up by getting us to think in unhelpful ways. Each of the five areas is a chapter in its own right. The book starts with reflecting on the problems we can cause ourselves by creating simplified stories which feel safe and create secure, clear explanations – but reality is often not so simple. Similar foci are then developed which look at
For each of these areas, not only are the potential problems explored, but suggestions of how to overcome them are made.
This short book (135 pp.) is a useful reflective read which, whilst only looking at complexity tangentially, explores some of the common problems that leadership can bring with it and which can be sidestepped with some basic thought and mindfulness about the role and work of leaders. I felt it is written in a style akin to business guru texts, but has some substance and useful reflections.
Allen, A. (2022) The Wake and the Manuscript. Grand Rapids: Anti-Oedipus Press.
The Wake and the Manuscript is a philosophical novel which considers a series of issues including death, indoctrination and for me, ultimately, the nature of (formal) education. The style of the book gives a feeling of claustrophobia, firstly because of its format – there is no use of paragraphs, so the stream of ideas, and the story itself feels continuous and dense. The book is also primarily set in a single room, as the protagonist, an academic, sits next to the body of a recently deceased acquaintance, someone who he had grown up with when their parents had been part of a religious sect and whose manuscript he had grappled and fought with over a number of years. This, together with the intensity of the writing itself instilled an interesting reaction in the way I engaged with the book.
I don’t want to give too much away as I think you need to meet this text on its own terms, and I would hazard a guess that what you get from the novel will in many ways depend on your own interests and perspectives. As an educationalist I found the core arguments put forward within the eponymous manuscript fascinating, setting up a clear dichotomy between the philosophy of the academic and that of the recently deceased man about the utility and nature of formal education. This led to a long and increasingly diverse discussion between me and my partner as we chewed over the themes that emerge from the description of the manuscript and the academic’s reaction to it. We reflected particularly on education and class, and the assumptions we make and the impact of positionality in how we critique the messages in the manuscript and their relationship to issues of class. For me personally, it also throws up questions of the academic endeavour, how we can be as guilty of herd mentality and ideas of what is acceptable as anyone else, and how we treat those whose ideas might be opposed to our own. But these are the things which emerged for me, the text is so rich I am sure others will see something completely different.
This book is not an easy read at times, but it is fascinating in both its approach and its themes. It deserves time and should have you thinking long and hard well after you have finished the book itself.
If you have not really engaged with the field of organisational sciences, or organisational sociology, then you might be looking out for a basic text which sets out some of the main ideas of interest in these areas of study. Lune’s book does a good job of introducing some of the basic ideas around organisations and might help people orientate themselves in this area of work.
The chapters each pick up on a facet of organisational study, the first chapter engaging with the simple question of what we mean by an organisation and exploring the centrality of organisations in our society. This is then built upon by looking at the work of Weber, Durkheim and Marx who offer classic theories of organisation. This latter chapter is particularly useful for those who have not engaged with these theories but who what to develop an understanding of organisational theory – the sections are short on each theorist, but they offer enough to begin a train of thought to be followed up elsewhere.
Having looked at these classic theorists as a starting point, the next couple of chapters that take a loosely historical approach, looking first at rational systems work by people such as Taylor and Ford, then the development of human systems approaches as a reaction to this, before focusing on organisational culture in chapter 4.
Whilst these initial chapters are quite broad and very much introductory, for those new to organisational work, they nevertheless offer a simple orientation to some of the more mainstream and ‘classic’ views of organisations.
The remaining chapters are then more issues based. I’m currently doing a lot of reading on organisational failure, so the chapter on organisational dysfunction was particularly interesting, looking at different forms and scales of dysfunction and failure. This is followed by considering the ways in which organisations fit within their environments, including the development and importance of relations, and a consideration of the neo-institutional model.
The final chapters then look at the non-profit sector and their form and roles in the wider organisational ecology followed by the role of organisations in social change, and finally a ‘what next?’ reflection on the sociology of organisations.
This is a very readable book and is well written in the sense that it mixes theory with examples and case studies to help the reader understand how ideas can be used to explore and understand real world issues and contexts. At 192 pages it will not take long to read this and is a nice example of a book I would suggest students in education read if they want to consider an alternative way of understanding schools, colleges and universities to those tripped out in countless leadership books. Well worth taking a look. ere to edit.
Perryman, J. (2022) Teacher Retention in an Age of Performative Accountability. London: Routledge.
I’ve followed Jane Perryman’s work on and off since the early 2000s, as I guess many in education research have. She has laid bare the processes of how teachers have been impacted by an ever-developing machinery of surveillance/dataveillance and has offered a clear theoretical lens through which to understand this trajectory. It was therefore great to see the publication of this volume as it brings together the results from the projects Jane Perryman has been involved in over the past 20 years or so and sets them in a wider context of the changing landscape of teacher accountability, the role of Ofsted, and the shifting policy environment.
The book begins with an introduction which in large part sets out the nature and approaches used in the projects which are the backbone of later discussions. In a period when there are regular attacks by non-researchers about qualitative approaches to research, this chapter gives a clear and positive insight into how qualitative research designs can offer deep and critical ways of understanding the complex dynamics and contexts which exist in education. For me, this chapter adds both context and weight to the later chapters, whilst also giving a clear understanding of the rigour and validity of the data collected.
The second and third chapters are an extremely interesting synthesis of the changing nature of performativity and accountability in the English education system using a Foucauldian perspective to understand how these processes exist and develop within the education system. These chapters should be basic, core reading for any students taking modules relating to school management and improvement, or policy studies at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Indeed, any teacher wanting to gain a genealogical insight into why they experience the system as it currently exists would find these chapters very enlightening. And throughout, not only is there the macro-level pattern of change in policy and reactions in school leadership, but the analysis is illustrated throughout at the micro-level with the individual experiences of those who took part in the projects outlined in the introduction. As such, there is not only analysis here, but a feeling to a degree of testaments of those who have lived through the changes which have occurred since the turn of the millennium.
Chapters four and five to some degree begin to emphasise the personal more, looking as they do at the emotions of teaching and the retention crisis which continues to dog the English school system. As with chapters two and three, there is the use of a wide literature to contextualise and support the analysis and discussion, through considerations of stress, identity, and the aspects of the system which play a role in their shifts, particularly workload, examination pressures and inspection. Once again, these themes then flow into the subsequent chapter which draws on the various strands of the book to explore how they help throw light on the reasons for the teacher retention crisis in England.
Throughout the book, the inspection regime which has developed over the past 25 years is central to all aspects of the book. There is a withering attack on the inspectorate which shows in detail how it has perverted and distorted the work of schools, leading to a system under pressure. There are no doubt supporters of Ofsted still, but the evidence of their pernicious impact on the English school systems would be hard to argue against having read this book; no doubt some will continue to try!
The final chapter brings the book up to the present, reflecting on the impact of the pandemic on both the exams system and the role of the inspectorate. Sadly, there is also the admission that radical change will not be likely to come anytime soon.
This book is a fantastic analysis and critique of the last 25 years of education policy, and as such does not point the finger only at one side of the political divide, it is not a political book in this sense, merely following the shifts which have occurred over time and describing and discussing the human experiences which result. As someone who is interested in the dynamics and impacts of change, I found this a fascinating read. Unfortunately, with the current madness of the ideologically driven accreditation process unleashed on initial teacher education, yet another example of the need by those in power to centralise power and create a world in their own narrow vision, this book is unlikely to gain traction in the halls of power. However, perhaps once the Department of Education has crashed teacher supply in England and is clutching at life rafts in an attempt to retina a shred of credibility, it is books such as this that they’ll turn to as a way of charting a new course. We can live in hope.
Hennigan, S. (2022) Ghost Signs. Poverty and the Pandemic. Hebden Bridge: Bluemoose Books.
One of the problems of the modern media sector is its need to constantly find new ways to attract viewers/listeners/readers. As a result, the mainstream media partakes in a relentless drive towards new stories and disasters. The negative impact of this is that stories, even major global events, become lost, are rapidly wiped from the collective memory. In some cases politicians even act to rewrite events to suit their own narratives and lust for power, often aided and abetted by their journalistic outriders. Consequently, it becomes vital that some individuals take time to create testaments to capture authentic experiences and impacts to be captured for posterity, if only to remind us that there are alternative, and often much more honest recollections of those events. This book by Stu Hennigan is such a testament, based on his experiences as a volunteer, delivering food parcels and medicines to those in need across Leeds during the first UK pandemic lockdown.
The book is mainly an ethnography of his experiences delivering food to those in need across Leeds and is written in a loose diary format. The thick descriptions give a vivid idea of the areas he visits, the dilapidated nature of much of the housing in parts of the city, and the incredibly difficult lives of those he interacts with. The fact that he recorded his experiences on a daily basis whilst volunteering and helping maintain some semblance of normality within his family life is astounding. He shows a huge commitment to capture the stories of poverty in what is meant to be a modern, wealthy nation. The book follows his experiences chronologically, which he intersperses with a reminder of the wider national picture at the beginning of each chapter. This helps to create a rich recollection of a major event, locating the narrative in both place and national context.
What comes across to me is the vast disparity of wealth across a single city, often between two adjacent areas. It feels as if whole groups of people have been left to fend for themselves, apparently unworthy of help as a result of the commentary the Conservative government spun after the financial crash of 2008 – it was right to dole out billions to the individuals who had crashed the system, but those in need were to be punished for someone else’s catastrophic mistakes because they are unfairly characterised as feckless, lazy, unwilling to work.
A book comes along every once in a while, which reflects the awfulness of a society back on itself, making it uneasy, but necessary reading. I remember reading Rezak Hukanovic’s The Tenth Circle of Hell: A memoir of life in the death camps of Bosnia, and being stunned by the inhumanity, the shear willingness to perpetrate violence against innocent people just because of their religion. Here, Stu Hennigan gives a critical and sickening insight into how a country whose wealth should ensure that all its population have a basic dignity in life has failed completely to do so. This is a hugely important testament not only to capturing the impact of the COVID pandemic, but also to laying bare the abject failure of politicians to fulfil their basic role – the safety and dignity of their population. This seems to me to be a clear throated call for change.
Tim Ingold sets out to explore and argue for a different view of both anthropology and education from what has become the ‘norm’. He develops an argument which contrasts what is characterised as the mainstream, of teach to, of the transfer of knowledge, and of examination-driven endpoints, and an alternative, which he builds an argument for, which sees both education and anthropology as opportunities for attention and the opening up of the learning process to allow for discovery. This naturally leads to consideration of how we study, what the role of the teacher is, how central freedom becomes to the enterprise, and ultimately the role universities need to take in an increasingly complex and fractured world.
Many of the philosophers and theorists on which Tim Ingold rests his argument are already well known and have been used to build the foundations for a different educational imaginary. Across the four chapters, Ingold uses a number of different concepts, such as transmission, communication, reason, major and minor approaches (based on Deleuze and Guattari), and freedom, etc to construct an argument centred on identifying contrasting approaches to education. The first is the ‘major’ approach, the dominant process of education at present, one focused on transmission and the doing of education to students. They are passive and receive the knowledge their ‘betters’ believe is most important for them. But through this, they may not truly attend to their learning, merely memorising and regurgitating. However, the ‘minor’ approach is characterised by the teacher and students becoming intertwined, the teacher not leading but helping, encouraging and supporting. This rests on the notion that all in the process learn, not merely the students. And this also opens the door to the idea that learning is not finite and does not have an end point such as an exam, it can continue endlessly for as long as those involved are gaining from the experience.
The role of teacher and learner is considered in depth, and use is made of the work of both Ranciere and Biesta to outline the very different relationships and foci of a minor approach which emerges from this. I find one of the most interesting aspects here the role of attention. Ingold splits attention into two types, volition and habit. Volition is the interruption to check, to check the developing knowledge of the individual, but seen here as disruptive and negative. Habit is the flowing attention given to something we are focused on, it is positive and enabling of our interest. And it is in habit that Ingold argues we can find a true element of freedom, that encouraging attention which focuses on the flow of experience and learning (which is similar to Whitehead’s theory of education) is more conducive for a good education.
The final chapter of the book uses the ideas which Ingold explores to call for a different type of anthropology and a different approach to university education. These again follow the argues he builds in the first three chapters, emphasising democratic, emancipatory and person-centred approaches. He critiques the current systems in both these fields and makes clear and reasoned suggestions as to how they need to change based on the theoretical work he has structured leading up to this point in the book.
This is a relatively short book (94 pages) but is theoretically dense and develops a number of strands of argument. This is done very well, and puts forward a well-conceived argument for a different approach to education. The outline of this alternative view, in practical terms, is perhaps not that new, but how he gets there, and its explicit links to anthropology make this an interesting and original read.
Hallam, R. (2019) Common Sense for the 21st Century: only nonviolent rebellion can now stop climate breakdown and social collapse. Common Sense for the 21st Century: Carmarthenshire.
This booklet is about the need for radical activist led change in the 21st century as the result of rapid climate change. It is a short booklet, at 80 pages, and in this space makes a case for a particular form of revolution to secure the societal change needed to meet the acute and rapidly deteriorating situation created by accelerating climate change.
The case for rebellion is made by contrasting it with reformism. Hallam (a co-founder of Extinction Rebellion) argues that mainstream politics has failed due to its overreliance on the use of gradual policy shift, where politicians try to make frequent small adjustments to bring about change over time, reliant on ensuring they remain popular, so never suggest anything too radical. He contrasts this gradual, and ultimately minimal approach with the rate at which the climate is shifting, and concludes, quite rightly in my opinion, that the trajectory in policy change will never meet the ever more acute problems caused by climate change. Hence, if reformism does not work, and can be seen not to have worked over the past thirty years, what to do to put in place the required intensity of reaction to minimise and even reverse the impact of human induced climate change.
Having set out a very reasonable case for the predicament we currently find ourselves in, where politics lags behind the needed activity, Hallam goes on to outline how he sees us producing the rapid and revolutionary change we need to overcome the climate emergency we have created. This is where I begin to struggle with this booklet, as his plan seems to hang on a form of utopian activism which appears to leave out of its argument the complexities and differences inherent in human nature and human populations.
Hallam begins by advocating rebellion, with thousands to hundreds of thousands of people taking to the street in non-violent acts of protest and disruption very similar to what we have seen in previous Extinction Rebellion (ER) protests. This will grow naturally over several days and lead to the capitulation of the government. There are several big assumptions being made here; firstly, that this many people would wish to protest in this way. ER has mobilised people successfully but never in the required numbers. And vague mention is made of this being a global rebellion. Some of the largest polluters in the world would not meet such protest the same way as the UK police force would, and possible reprisals on families etc would make such protests hard to envisage. Hence, the immediate problem is mobilising enough people. Secondly, governments are likely to use the mainstream media to argue that such activity is wholly unacceptable, and begin to turn sections of the population against the rebels making their case even more difficult to sustain.
If we accept however, that despite these huge problems, the government somehow lays down its power, what then? Here, the big hope for what comes next is the creation of a National Citizens’ Assembly which takes over from the function of parliament. This is to be created through sortition (random selection of people from across the population) of 1000 people. There then comes an assumption that this assembly will naturally and drastically shift the policy narratives, bringing in socio-economic and environmental policy to solve the climate crisis and at the same time introduce a fairer, more equitable society. To me this ignores that if the 1000 people are chosen randomly, they will have a spectrum of beliefs and issues which mean a lot to them, and this may stall many of the desired policy shifts. In addition, in a group of 1000 people, many may assume an identity aligned with their previous political allegiances, seeing themselves as Lib Dem, Labour, Green, Tory or SNP for example. Therefore, rather than the simple shift to a natural preference for radical change, the National Citizens’ Assembly may decide on a different course of action, or may stall altogether until informal coalitions emerge – hence replicating the system it is meant to replace.
This is a very interesting booklet which sets out the acute nature of the problems we face extremely well but I can’t help but feel that there has been no engagement with the ever-expanding literature on the psychology of climate change which would present a much more complex image of the choices, perceptions and motivations of people in the wider population. As a result, the suggested rebellion and subsequent solution to the climate emergency we are in feel to come from a naïve-utopian perspective. I think something which engages with the huge complexity of the changes needed and how these might be met, something multifaceted and more tentative might seem less revolutionary, but might well serve as a better blueprint for bringing meaningful change.
This is a relatively short book which explores the idea and practice of masculinity, based on Grayson Perry’s engagement with the topic via a TV series he developed on the topic (All Man), together with his reflections of his personal experiences. Based on a problematisation of masculinity in modern society, the book is split into four parts, each exploring a different facet of masculinity and its contemporary meanings, processes and impacts.
The first focus is that of power, and how men, in particular a particular group of richer, often more middle/upper class men, have much of the power in modern societies and use this to perpetuate a narrow set of advantages. The exploration of how other groups, including women, ethnic minorities, the disabled etc are disadvantaged is developed here, including how shifts in power have been met with resistance by some in the powerful male group. There is also reflection on how men who are not in these powerful groups, namely the working class, find other ways to try to act as powerful agents at a more local or even personal scale. Consideration is then given as to how change in these power networks, to make societies more equal and inclusive would lead to much more positive societies which might be more at ease with themselves and others.
Next comes a reflection on the ways in which men act out their masculinity, particularly through the ways in which they dress and act. There is an interesting discussion on identity, and a fairly standard but well-crafted and insightful discussion about gendered clothing for children and the types of toys etc that they are assumed to prefer. There is a really interesting personal reflection by Grayson Perry reflecting on his own childhood and his experiences of clothes and deciding how to dress. Whilst much of the wider content of this chapter is not really new, the engaging writing and use of interesting examples helps draw the reader into reflecting about their own experiences and perspectives around how we present ourselves to the outside world, and why we do this in particular ways.
The penultimate chapter focuses on more traditional portrayals of masculinity and how some sections of society are still trapped in these ways of acting, here argued to be the result of a lack of positive male role models. Consideration is given to why very masculine persona can be problematic, using a detailed reflection of an example of a group of teenagers from Skelmersdale who had been part of Grayson Perry’s original TV series. What I liked about this discussion is that he makes the point that such potentially violent masculinity, whilst perhaps most overt in contexts such as this, is not a single class problem, it is merely that middle- and upper-class violence is often better hidden, and in the case of domestic violence, may be more mental than physical. Avoiding easy tropes such as violence being solely a working class issue (beloved of sections of the right wing press) helped in reflecting on the genuine ubiquity of the problems involved.
The final chapter considers emotions and the many ways in which masculinity can mask or prevent men from opening up and being honest about their feelings; suicide rates amongst men are much higher than women. Consideration is given to the messages boys experience in childhood that all too often lead them to believe that they need to look strong and to show little emotion. It is argued that this results in many men being unable and unwilling to be honest about their feelings in case they are thought of as weak. Grayson Perry then develops some of the strands of this argument to reflect on sexuality and possible links to childhood experiences. Finally, he begins to consider how masculinity needs to be changed, morphed to realign how men see themselves and how they see their place and role in society. There is no silver bullet here I’m glad to say, no surprise solution to what is a complex and difficult set of issues and problems, but nevertheless Grayson Perry does offer so me nuanced ideas about how we can begin to reform masculinity into something more positive and something which embraces a greater sense of equality.
This is very much a polemic and therefore some of the arguments at times feel a little simplistic. It is also a slight annoyance that where data or examples are given, it is not always clear where sources come from that could be explored further. But these are minor points. The mixture of thought and exploration of big issues, linked to both more detailed examples and personal reflections is really engaging and gives a great deal of food for thought and reflection. I can imagine this being a great ignition point for further discussion for couples or groups (regardless of gender makeup) based on the range of insights and the interesting foci by which the book is structured and as such might be a great resource for thinking about processes of change.
Autor, D. et al (2021) The Work of the Future. Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines. MIT Press: Cambridge Massachusetts.
In 2018, the president of MIT commissioned the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future. This task force was to explore the relationships between emerging technologies and work. This book is a summary output of some of the initial work of this task force. It is set within an American context, and hence the data used, and examples given are all from the USA. However, whilst this is the case, the arguments which are developed through the book will have wider currency, especially in the UK where this reviewer is based.
The book begins by looking at the changing labour market within the USA, and sets this in relation to the processes of task automation and the creation of new work as a result of the development of new technologies. The authors demonstrate that there has been shifts in the types of jobs, and that many new jobs have been created as a result of technological change. Within this discussion, it is made clear that there have been downsides to the development of technology in the labour market. There is clear evidence that whilst graduates have faired well from shifts, continuing to see increases in real wages, many other workers have seen a stagnation, or even a fall in their real wages. This has led to what the authors call ‘the great divergence’. As a result there has been a rise in inequality, as they state,
‘Within this great divergence lurk multiple dimensions of growing inequality – by education, race, ethnicity, gender and even geography.’ (19)
Linked to this growing inequality is a divergence in job quality and the loss of good conditions for many low paid and low skilled workers. This part of the book finishes by demonstrating that the rise of inequality and its linked issues of poor job quality have a detrimental impact on the US economy; unsurprisingly the conclusion appears to be that if you want a better functioning economy, you need to close the inequality gap by developing a better environment for work.
The authors next turn to the technological side of the equation. Here, they recount issues around the development of artificial intelligence, and its potential for changing the world of work. There are examples of how work might change, but overall the message appears to be that these shifts will lead to a change in jobs rather than the loss of jobs and resultant mass unemployment. One example shows the rising employment numbers and wages of nurses and health information technicians, whilst seeing a fall in the number and pay of medical transcriptionists over time. Another example explored is that of driverless vehicles. This shows that as the technology matures it may well be that many jobs are lost, but as the old jobs decline, new sectors will grow up around servicing and maintaining the new automated vehicles.
Whilst there is a lot of focus on the adoption of new technologies and how they will radically change the way people work, the authors do emphasise the uneven adoption and use of such technologies. They include a discussion of small and medium enterprises where the adoption of automation has been far less obvious than in large companies. This is often due to the cost of swapping over to these new processes; where production runs are small or where profits don’t allow for large capital expenditure, companies choose to retain existing ways of working. This then shows another potential for inequality through lessened competitiveness.
Having outlined the complexity of the current shifts in the workplace as a result of emerging technologies, the authors then open the second part of the book which focuses on what responses are needed to ensure that inequality is lessened and not amplified. They begin by exploring the role of education and training. It is refreshing to see a focus on workplace training rather than seeing the formal education system as the primary way of correcting education need. A number of options are considered, including in-sector training programmes, private sector investment in training as well as better vocational training in schools. These are all focused on developing, and continuing to develop, the expert skills-based and knowledge of workers. It shows the idea of ongoing development as opposed to a single programme at the start of a career.
Next job quality is considered, as the authors highlight,
‘the US has not translated rising productivity into commensurate improvements in job opportunities and earnings for the majority of workers during the last four decades.’ (101)
Several policies are suggested here including better unemployment insurance (a form of social security) which has fallen to low levels with less protection since the 1980s. This is suggested in conjunction with meaningful minimum wages and the development of workers as stakeholders, including renewed labour movement activity to work in partnership with employers. It seems here that there are no really innovative suggestions, merely the reinstalling of rights and securities enjoyed previously before the free-market ideology of the 1980s kicked in. However, the authors believe these interventions could play a crucial role in increasing job quality across the labour market.
To finish their exploration, the authors look at the need for institutions for innovation. They make it clear that many of the large-scale innovations the USA have been global leaders in came from government backed investment, for example in space engineering and the internet. This shows that the free market alone cannot create innovations by itself, and needs the State to act as partners if innovations are to develop the economy further.
The result of the discussions engaged with throughout the book lead to a set of policy directions, which the authors believe will create a better workplace which can integrate technologies positively. Unsurprisingly these policy directions focus on investing and innovating in skills and training, better job quality, and a greater role in bringing about innovation.
This is a really interesting book which provides both data and examples as evidence for the arguments being made. It will be accessible to the general reader. I particularly like the fact the authors don’t present emerging technologies as either the saviour or the demon of the future labour market, but as a set of tools which need to be considered in relation to the outcomes we want for ourselves as the workers and populations which will interact with them. It also demonstrates that whilst the New Labour government of the 2000s who pushed a skills agenda in schools with videos such as ‘Shift Happens’ which oversimplified the potential changes in future job markets, those who laughed and said that such shifts were a mirage and that education should go back to being ‘stuff to memorise’ were equally naïve.
Some reflections on things I'm reading