Are Programmers Oppressed by Monopoly Capital, or Shall the Geeks Inherit the Earth? Commentary on Nathan Ensmenger & William Aspray, “Software as Labor Process”

  • David A. Hounshell


In their bold, provocative paper, “Software as Labor Process,” Nathan Ensmenger and William Aspray examine the history of software production through the lens of labor history. They do so to make sense of the ever-present “software crisis” that has attended society almost from the outset of the electronic digital computer. They do so employing principally the framework of the now-OLD “new labor history”—i.e., “labor process” study in which what takes place “on the shop floor” becomes central and how struggle for control of the shop floor takes priority over other parts of the story such as the union organizing campaigns and politics of the old labor history. Their deployment of the old new labor history in writing the history of software distinguishes this paper as a pioneering effort, though like most pioneering enterprises, it is not without problems. Ensmenger and Aspray also employ some of the framework of the NEW “new labor history” in which attention is focused on how matters of gender and race, not just class, play out on the shop floor. Here, again, their effort is bold but not without problems. In what follows, I critique this paper by addressing the paper’s discussion of early software workers, the relevance of the deskilling framework for software history, and the relevance of the NEW new labor history for software history. I will conclude by suggesting what the labor history of software should include were one to be executed fully.


Shop Floor Computer Programmer Software Production Briefly Treat Capability Maturity Model 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Hounshell
    • 1
  1. 1.Henry R. Luce Professor of Technology and Social ChangeCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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