Unformatted text preview: SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Fall 2010 Textbook:
Volti, Rudi. 2009. Society and Technological Change. 6th edition. Worth Publishers Inc.
REVIEW, PT. IV: TECHNOLOGY AND THE HEALTH TRANSFORMATION OF WORK.
CHAPTER 9: WORK IN NON-INDUSTRIAL SOCIETIES (153-170) For most people, the greatest part of their waking hours is spent doing some sort of work.
Although technological change appears to have lightened our workload substantially, it should
be apparent that the consequences of technological change are not always simple and straightforward. The development of technology over time has not always resulted in diminished workloads — in fact, the opposite has sometimes been the case (153).
Read: Working with the Earliest Tools (153-4).
Research indicates that a life of unremitting toil is not a necessary
consequence of a low level of technological development. There are
parts of the world where agriculture and industry have not taken over,
and the ways of earning a living strongly resemble the ones employed
by our prehistoric ancestors — namely, hunting and gathering. The
!Kung Bushmen live in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa — a
harsh, difficult environment. They posses only the simplest technologies, but by gathering protein-rich mongongo nuts and over 80 other
species of food plants, and supplementing these with the meat of
game animals, the !Kung provide themselves with a nutritionally
adequate diet. Their hunting and gathering is not particularly arduous
— on average, adults put in a six-hour workday about two-and-a-half
days per week (total 12-19 hours of labor per week). The remainder
of the !Kung’s working hours are taken up with such activities as
visiting and entertaining friends and relatives, and engaging in dances
into a trance (155). !Kung San elders with their
grandson: scientists have found
genetic fragments in this tribe
that may date back to the origin
(Source: Fossils in the Blood.
The Village Voice, April 4, 2000. that put the participants “The original affluent society.” Here, affluence is not the same thing as abundance for the !Kung
lack the material possessions common to more technologically advanced societies. A nomadic
people, they have no permanent dwellings. Their clothing is minimal. They lack all but the most
basic domestic utensils, and they have no way of conveying these except on their own backs (156).
Besides not producing many material goods, they have not produced many of their own kind. They
have controlled their rate of reproduction and have avoided putting excessive pressure on their
environment. The population density in their territory is only 41 persons per square mile. In contrast,
agricultural societies have densities ranging from a few hundred to several thousand, while urban
centers in industrial societies may pack tens of thousands of people per square mile of space (156).
The !Kung have a great supply of leisure time. Why is it that, according to Marshall Sahlins, “the
amount of work per capita increases with the evolution of culture, and the amount of leisure per
capita decreases”? A technologically dynamic economy generates labor-saving devices, but at
the same time it produces a steady stream of new goods that are eagerly sought after. This means
that labor-saving technologies are generally used to increase income — not to reduce hours of
work — so we often find ourselves on a treadmill, working long hours to obtain the material goods
that we scarcely have time to enjoy (156).
The !Kung have maintained an equilibrium between their wants and their capacity to achieve them.
Modest requirements and simple technologies have produced a life that lacks physical amenities,
but leaves much more leisure time than can be found in our more “advanced” way of life (156).
Read: Work and the Development of Agriculture (156-7). Page 1 of 2 SOCIOLOGY 415: Technology and Society
University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Fall 2010 The domestication of food grains may provide a very early example of technological development
proceeding partially by fortunate accident. Wild grasses (progenitors of early wheat and barley)
reproduced through wind dispersal of their seeds. Some of these wild plants had seed-holding
spikes that did not easily detach and so were not dispersed by the wind, and a disproportionate
number of these were harvested by human gatherers. When humans sowed wheat and barley,
the resulting crops were increasingly made up of plants with tough spikes and intact heads, thus
making them far more suitable for regular harvesting. Early farmers found it advantageous to
sow their crops on level ground rather than on hillsides where the grasses normally grew. This
gave further stimulus to the survival of the mutated forms of the wild grains that could prosper in
the new environment (157).
The result? A new symbiosis between plants and people. Domesticated grains could not reproduce
themselves as they had done before humans intervened.
RESULTING IN… CHANGES Increasing dependence on regular harvests of grain. People having to cultivate descendants
of wild grasses. Agriculture allowed higher population densities than
those found in hunting-and-gathering societies. A greater workload for each individual. Increasing population. People having to work harder and more
consistently. Technological progress. Greater regularity of work patterns (157). Read: Farming Techniques and Patterns of Work (157-159). The paradox underlying the development of agricultural technologies until recently is that as the land becomes more productive, people
have to work much harder, for the increased productivity of the land is the result of an increase in
the number of workers and the amount of work they do (158). One of the greatest technological
advances in human history — the development of agriculture (from foraging, and slash-and-burn,
to sedentary) — resulted in dramatic increases in duration, pace, and extent of human labor (159).
However, settled farming was paralleled by the development of towns and cities which were often
characterized by monumental architecture and other artistic advances. Agrarian societies also
made possible development of roads and other elements of infrastructure that facilitated the work
of merchants and artisans, giving further stimulus to occupational specialization (159-160).
A market-based exchange is one in which both parties participate in a transaction through which
each expects to gain. Yet more will be at stake than efficiency, innovation, and general development
of production. It may be far more important to see that all members of the family or community are
employed, or that jobs are given out not according to the workers’ abilities but according to their
social position. Certain occupations may be the special province of specific social groups (160-1).
Read: Guild Organization and Technological Change (162-3) and Slavery and the Inhibition of
Technological Development (163-4).
Work patterns in the preindustrial city did not adhere to any fixed schedule — the producer was
not concerned with the maximization of income. In the Western world, the rise of Protestantism,
especially Calvinism, gave a new centrality to work — manifested not just by a willingness to work
hard in order to gain material success but also by a systematic and methodical approach to work.
And so began the regulation of work activities according to the dictates of a precise schedule (165).
Key invention — the clock. In urban centers, during the early 14th C., the mechanical clock began
to exert its influence, laying the foundation for a more regularized pattern of work. Units of time —
hours, minutes, seconds — treated as valuable commodities. Precise scheduling of work
converted most work into routinized procedures governed by artificial time schedules (166). Page 2 of 2 ...
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