The aim of this paper is to reassess the current view of technological trends adopting a historical perspective. In our interpretation, the historical record provides some suggestive evidence for a more sceptical view of the notion of an emerging “fourth” industrial revolution. Indeed, even at an impressionistic glance, the recent developments in AI, communication and robotics that are marked as the core of the fourth industrial revolution, appear as a rather natural prolongation of the ICT macro-trajectories described in this paper. At the same time, to study the relation between technology and labour, we focus on the plant level as the most useful unit of analysis to consider the complex interaction between management systems, labour process and technological innovations. In this sense, we examine two Internet of Things’ technologies in order to underline the persistence of a fundamental trait of the capitalist mode of production, namely the exertion of control over workers. Consistently, we expect a continuity between newly emerging management practices and previous management systems, especially referring to the ones adopted during the ICT revolution.
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As recalled in Knights and Willmott (1990, p.6), Marx pointed out this issue very clearly: “As the number of the co-operating workers increases, so too does their resistance to the domination of capital, and necessarily, the pressure put on by capital to overcome this resistance. The control exercised by the capitalist is not only a special function arising from the nature of the social labour process, and peculiar to that process, but is at the same time a function of the exploitation of a social labour process, and is consequently conditioned by the unavoidable antagonism between the exploiter and the raw materials of his exploitation” (Marx 1976, p. 449).
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The authors acknowledge support from European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 822781 GROWINPRO—Growth Welfare Innovation Productivity.
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Cetrulo, A., Nuvolari, A. Industry 4.0: revolution or hype? Reassessing recent technological trends and their impact on labour. J. Ind. Bus. Econ. 46, 391–402 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40812-019-00132-y
- Industry 4.0
- ICT revolution
- Management system