Professor Sarah Nies
Professorship for »Sociology with Focus on Digitalisation in the World of Work«
Research Interests• Sociology of Work with a focus on new technologies and re-organisation, labour process, subjective interests, appropriation and resistance at the workplace
• Theories of Capitalism
• Qualitative Research Methods
Office hoursBy appointment
News42nd International Labour Process Conference
3rd-5th April 2024 University of Göttingen
Current Research Projects„Politics of Inscription in the digital transformation: The Labour Process in the intersection of firm strategies and technology design." German Research Foundation (DFG).
This project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the priority program 2267 ‘The Digitalisation of Working Worlds’ and is carried out in cooperation with the ISF Munich and the ZZF Potsdam. Duration: 11/2023 - 10/2026.
Inscription of Technology and the Politics of Performance
Following the first project ‘Politics of Performance’, this follow-up project aims to deepen and expand the analysis of digital transformation focusing on the interrelation between technology inscription and appropriation of technology, firm strategies of digitalisation and the politics of performance. Specifically, we ask how, on the one hand, digital technologies expand the possibilities of control of the production process and the labour process and, on the other hand, require organizational adjustments that restrict the autonomy of decision making within the firm. Against this background we investigate how firms try to exert influence on technological design but also ask about the obstinate appropriation of digital technology in concrete work processes. Analogous to working conditions and politics of performance, the inscription or technology development is understood as a contested field that is not only influenced by firm strategies, but by all actors involved. The contested field of the ‘politics of performance’ is thus joined by the field of the ‘politics of inscription’, in which operating companies, technology suppliers and (representatives of) worker’s struggle over the concrete design of technology.
The project examines the relationship between influence on and influence by technology design from an interdisciplinary perspective, taking the chemical industry as an example: The relationship between general rationalisation strategies and technological developments is investigated from a historical perspective (ZZF). From a sociological perspective the firm strategies of technology design and inscription as well as their effects on the work process level are investigated (University of Goettingen and ISF Munich). The investigation is based on case studies of digitally supported process integration in large-scale chemical industry and laboratory automation in the pharmaceutical industry.
„The Politics of Performance in the Digitalised Industrial Workplace: Firm Strategies of Digitalisation and Practices of Labour Control." German Research Foundation (DFG).
This project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the priority program 2267 "The Digitalisation of Working Worlds" and is carried out in cooperation with the ISF Munich. Duration: 11/2020 - 10/2023. (DFG) (Digitalization of Working Worlds)
Politics of Performance in the Digital Transformation of Work:
Digital technologies create new terms for modes of control and the steering of performance at work. For example, by using digital technologies the use of automated data collection and processing shows an increase in transparency and increases the possibilities of surveillance, enables more direct access to processes of the whole value chain and facilitate flexible automation. However, we assume that each firm pursues different (and possibly conflicting) objectives in using digital technology, with labour control and restriction of autonomy of the workers being only one among others. The project seeks to make a conceptual and empirical contribution to the analysis of the digital transformation of work by analysing new patterns of the ‘politics of performance’ in the light of ‘strategies of digitalisation’ pursued by firms in the industrial sector. We define the ‘politics of performance’ as the interaction between managerial strategies and workers’ involvement in the processes of definition, activation and control of performance. With ‘firm strategies of digitalisation’ we refer to the objectives a firm pursues by deploying digital technologies in the light of the constant requirements of valorisation – beyond control this includes e.g., the (systematic) rationalisation of the overarching processes of production, the influence on the market, and also the explicit activation of self-responsibility and self-organisation of workers.
Aims and Research Question
The overall aim of the project is to develop a concept that will allow us to analyse the ‘politics of performance’ in digital work as part of a broader perspective on strategies of digitalisation ― including those strategies that are not explicitly connected with labour control, but still affect its framework conditions. First, the questions of which strategies management pursue with the use of digital technologies, how the respective strategies are implemented, and which frictions or synergies arise between different objectives are addressed. Secondly, the project explores how the initiated digitalisation processes affect the processes of the politics of performance. In doing so the project considers both: intended and unintended, and direct and indirect effects of the deployment of digital technology on the labour process. Since it is not possible to draw conclusions about the actual effects on the work process from certain ‘firm strategies of digitalisation’, the project also focuses on concrete work practices and ways of appropriating technology by production workers. The project thus aims to build a conceptual bridge between the analysis of concrete work processes and firm strategies of digitalisation.
Our conceptual approach links the fruitful body of literature on labour process and performance management in the German- and English-language debate, structurational perspectives on the appropriation of technology and the industrial sociological ‘firm-strategy approach’, which will be reviewed and actualised within the course of the project. This will make it possible to provide the means for a better understanding of the ongoing digital transformation of work, as it allows us to analytically connect working conditions and working experiences to economic and technological developments without reverting to determinist assumptions. Empirically we investigate the interplay of the strategies of digitalisation and the politics of performance in three in-depth case studies in the automotive, chemical and engineering sector. Each case is representing different starting conditions for the firm to develop and pursue strategies of digitalisation (e.g. market situation, position in the supply chain, previous degree of automation). The case studies include problem-centered interviews with production workers, guideline-based interviews with firm experts, as well as framing document analyses and firm visits. The evaluation of the cases is carried out both in firm-related case analyses and in comparative case comparisons.
Klur, Konstantin; Nies, Sarah (2023): Governed by digital technology? Self-perpetuation and social domination in digital capitalism. In: Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation 17 (1), S. 12–33.
Becksteiner, Mario; Nies, Sarah (2022): Digitale Konstruktion betrieblicher Wirklichkeiten und die Grenzen des Verhandelbaren. In: Janis Ewen, Sarah Nies und Martin Seeliger (Hg.): Sozialpartnerschaft im digitalisierten Kapitalismus. Hat der institutionalisierte Klassenkompromiss eine Zukunft? Weinheim: Beltz Juventa, S. 182–202.
Nies, Sarah (2021): Eine Frage der Kontrolle? Betriebliche Strategien der Digitalisierung und die Autonomie von Beschäftigen in der Produktion. In: Berliner Journal für Soziologie 31 (3/4), S. 475–504. DOI: 10.1007/s11609-021-00452-8.
Office hours: on working days (all day)
Mario Becksteiner M.A.
Dr. Heiner Heiland
Annemarie Kern M.A.
Moritz Kuhles M.A.
Samuel Rieger M.A.
Matthias Sommer M.A.