T4-07: Organizing work in the digital economy (1)

5 September 2019, 14:00–15:30

Chair: Sabine Pfeiffer


Socio-technical systems design (STSD) and digitization processes in the industrial sector

Experiences in German companies

Alexander Bendel, Institute for Work, Skills and Training, University of Duisburg-Essen
Erich Latniak, Institute for Work, Skills and Training, University of Duisburg-Essen

Presently, digitalization of German industry is gaining a lot of attention in German public debate: Based on the notion of “Industry 4.0” (BMWi, 2018) (BMBF 2018), there is a strong emphasis on technical solutions and the use of IT-based technologies and communication tools for the companies. But as recent research indicates (e.g. Baethge-Kinsky et al., 2018; Guhlemann et al., 2018; Klippert et al., 2018), many companies still tend to be cautious in applying the new remedy.

The joint research project “Arbeits- und prozessorientierte Digitalisierung in Industrieunternehmen – Weiterentwicklung kompetenter Arbeitssysteme (APRODI) (= Work and process oriented digitalization in industrial enterprises – further development of competency oriented work systems)” is aiming to improve digitalization processes in production environments in five companies by implementing digital technologies in a way that employees can broaden their skills and competencies and, at the same time, improve the ability to solve production related challenges. The project‘s objective is to contribute to a use of digital technologies that will foster productivity and competition related aspects on the one hand, while adapted, culture sensitive, and competence oriented approaches will be applied on the other.

Based on socio-technical principles and concepts (e.g. Ulich, 2011, 2013; Baxter & Sommerville, 2011; Winter et al., 2014), change projects in the joining companies are about to develop adapted approaches of a participative and integrated design. Solutions will be developed based on specifications jointly discussed by stakeholders and participants. Joining companies stem from different industries and they all have extended experience in using and developing team structures.

The companies’ learning processes are supported by joint efforts, i.e. by external and scientific input, and by joint feedback. The aim is to identify success factors and obstacles in the digitization processes (c.f. Zink et al., 2015), and to adapt these company experiences for transfer purposes. Based on interviews, participatory observation, formative evaluation, and action research methods, intervention oriented case studies will be analyzed.

We will present preliminary findings of selected cases and discuss conclusions for chances and limits of a participatory work design and for concepts of change processes in digitized environments.


  • Baethge-Kinsky, V., Marquardsen, K. and Tullius, K. (2018), “Perspektiven industrieller Instandhaltungsarbeit”, WSI-Mitteilungen, Vol. 71 No. 3, pp. 174–181.
  • Baxter, G. and Sommerville, I. (2011), “Socio-technical systems. From design methods to systems engineering”, Interacting with Computers, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 4–17.
  • Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (2018), “Was ist Industrie 4.0?”, available at: https://www.plattform-i40.de/I40/Navigation/DE/Industrie40/WasIndustrie4....
  • Guhlemann, K., Georg, A. and Katenkamp, O. (2018), “Der Mensch im Mittelpunkt oder im Weg? Grenzen und Potenziale menschengerechter Arbeitsgestaltung in der digitalen Transformation”, WSI-Mitteilungen, Vol. 71 No. 3, pp. 211–218.
  • Klippert, J., Niehaus, M. and Gerst, D. (2018), “Mit digitaler Technologie zu Guter Arbeit? Erfahrungen mit dem Einsatz digitaler Werker-Assistenzsysteme”, WSI-Mitteilungen, Vol. 71 No. 3, pp. 235–240.
  • Ulich, E. (2011), Arbeitspsychologie, 7. Aufl., vdf Hochschulverl. an der ETH, Zürich.
  • Ulich, E. (2013), “Arbeitssysteme als Soziotechnische Systeme – eine Erinnerung”, Journal Psychologie des Alltagshandelns, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 4–12.
  • Winter, S., Berente, N., Howison, J. and Butler, B. (2014), “Beyond the organizational ‘container’. Conceptualizing 21st century sociotechnical work”, Information and Organization, Vol. 24 No. 4, pp. 250–269.
  • Zink, K.J., Kötter, W., Longmuß, J. and Thul, M. (Eds.) (2015), Veränderungsprozesse erfolgreich gestalten, VDI-Buch, 2. Aufl., Springer Vieweg, Berlin.


The joint research project „Arbeits- und prozessorientierte Digitalisierung in Industrieunternehmen – Weiterentwicklung kompetenter Arbeitssysteme (APRODI)“ is financed by the Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF = German Federal Ministry for Education and Research) and the European Social Fund (ESF) from 01.05.2017 to 31.01.2020, Research Grant No. 02L15A 040 – 046.


Leeway or oneway?

Autonomy in (partly) digitalised worlds of work. Fuzzy Set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) as path to understanding of complex reality in sociology of work

Christian Manfred Wilke, Paderborn University
Eva Susanna Kunze, Paderborn University

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-51-Wilke.pdf

Qualitative Comparative Analysis (Ragin, 1987; Ragin, 2000; Schneider & Wagemann, 2012) – QCA – is not yet well-established in German-language publications concerning the sociology of work. In this article we want to show that QCA can be used as a methodological approach for analyzing the impacts of modern technologies on social dimensions of the workplace. QCA allows us to conduct parallel analyses of multiple theoretically relevant variables, whose combinations might impact the outcome variable. Specifically, an observed condition does not necessarily demonstrate its impact on the outcome as an isolated condition, but combined with others. Hence, cases analysed using QCA manifest themselves as configurations of multiple properties. Moreover, it is assumed that several causal paths (certain combinations of conditions) exist which explain the outcome. Our analysis searches for configurations of structural and technological workplace conditions interpretable as causal paths to perceived work autonomy.

Existing theories concerning this relationship point to negative consequences of new technologies in the workplace for autonomy. In both the labor process (Braverman, 1974) and technological determinism debates (summarized in Rammert, 2006) this relationship is mediated by a “dequalification” of employees whereas in action theory the introduction of new technologies provides opportunities for an expansion of autonomy, e.g. by formal gaps in newly created structures of work processes.

In our analysis we identify sufficient and necessary configurations for highly perceived work autonomy differentiated along the three dimension by Breaugh (1985). These configurations are combinations of up to four conditions: two conditions concerning the structural position of the employee (leadership and formal qualification) and two conditions dealing with technological properties of the workplace under observation (degree of digitalization and the degree of automated machine interference in work and decision processes).

Our sample consists of 33 employees from different firms and branches organized in the IG Metall (German metal workers union). The analysis produces multiple causal paths to work autonomy. First, autonomy of work method is sufficiently conditioned by a combination of high formal qualification and the absence of machine interference in the work process. Similar results are found for the sufficient conditions for autonomy of work scheduling. Second, we show that the presence of high-level formal qualification also leads to a highly perceived autonomy of work method and scheduling when combined with the absence of a digitalized workplace and leadership position.

The analysis of necessary condition reveals that holding a leadership position leads to high perceived autonomy of work method as far as it is combined with the absence of one of the two technological workplace properties. As hypothesized before the analysis, it does not show any consistent causal path to perceived autonomy of work criteria.

Our study shows how complex patterns of sufficient and necessary conditions for work autonomy can be identified using QCA. The analysis of combinations of technological and structural workplace properties allows us to review implications of the aforementioned theories beyond pure correlations. For our sample we can show that especially those workplaces with low impacts from alleged intelligent technology are endowed with high work autonomy. Therefore, visions of some “Brave new world of work” driven by digitalization as postulated in Internet-of-things/ smart industry/ industry 4.0 debates (e.g. Kagermann et al., 2013; Spath et al., 2013) remain worthy of discussion.


  • Braverman, H. 1974: Labor and Monopoly Capital. The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York.
  • Breaugh, J. A. 1985: The measurement of work autonomy. In: Human relations, Jg. 38 (1985), H. 6, S. 551–570.
  • Kagermann, H./Helbig, J./Hellinger, A./Wahlster, W. 2013: Umsetzungsempfehlungen für das Zukunftsprojekt Industrie 4.0: Deutschlands Zukunft als Produktionsstandort sichern; Abschlussbericht des Arbeitskreises Industrie 4.0.
  • Ragin, C. 1987: The comparative method: Moving beyond qualitative and quantitative methods. In: Berkeley: University of California (1987).
  • Ragin, C. C. 2000: Fuzzy-set social science.
  • Rammert, W. 1992: Wer oder was steuert den technischen Fortschritt? Technischer Wandel zwischen Steuerung und Evolution. In: Soziale Welt, Jg. 43 (1992), H. 1, S. 7–25.
  • Rammert, W. 2006: Technik, Handeln und Sozialstruktur: Eine Einführung in die Soziologie der Technik,. Internet: http://www. soz. tuberlin. de/Tuts/Wp/TUTS_WP_3_2006. pdf [zuletzt aufgesucht am 16.03.2010].
  • Schneider, C. Q./Wagemann, C. 2012: Set-theoretic methods for the social sciences: A guide to qualitative comparative analysis.
  • Spath, D./Ganschar, O./Gerlach, S./Hämmerle, M./Krause, T./Schlund, S. 2013: Produktionsarbeit der Zukunft-Industrie 4.0. Stuttgart.


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