Using Marx's Theory of Alienation to Research Dignity at Work

This chapter now considers to what extent Marx’s theory of alienation can inform research focused on dignity and work, and draws upon data obtained from research involving group sessions and individual interviews with ICT professionals who work for a major international IT company. The task here is to establish how appropriate Marx’s theory of alienation can be when trying to excavate the lived experiences of ICT professionals. The purpose is to create a narrative enabling ICT professionals to articulate their working lives as they see them, to place that narrative within the general trends evident within the sector, and to test whether their words echo our notions of alienation. In doing so, the following discussion seeks to explore the relationship between alienation and dignity within this specific set of circumstances.

Characteristics of the ICT Industry

One of the main characteristics of the ICT industry has been the intensive and incessant development of the technology itself. During the best of economic times, this process has presented challenges to those who work in the IT industry. However, the onset of the economic crisis of 2008 has created additional difficulties. A comprehensive study on the impact of the economic climate on IT spending was published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2012 (IEEE 2012). In its survey of 336 Chief Information Officers, the IEEE noted that almost half of the companies surveyed had delayed upgrading computer equipment and networks.

This experience clashes considerably with that of previous years where, as the report notes, 10—12 % increases in expenditure in IT companies had been the norm. As a result of this environment, the IT industry, which already had been quite competitive, has become increasingly more so (Anderson et al. 2012). This intensity of competition, as shall be discussed later, has a profound impact on how ICT professionals work. However, the process is also a contradictory one, since at the same time the requirement to produce competitive bids has also led to an increase in cooperation between providers of ICT (Pellegrin-Bouchera et al. 2013). In addition, experiences differ within the industry between those companies that provide ICT services and those concerned with manufacture. The former employs significantly more ICT professionals than the latter and it is the most dynamic segment of the industry, as witnessed by its relatively more positive recovery from the crisis of 2008.

However, as with all other sectors of employment, the immediate future of the ICT industry depends on the wider economic context which remains fragile and uncertain for many of the advanced economies. It is within this generally adverse environment that ICT professionals are required to undertake their daily tasks. While there is some degree of qualitative research involving ICT professionals, it has not been possible to discover other research where they come together to discuss and reflect in a collective environment, their experiences of the technology. In short, in most of the research the voice of the professional is refracted, one could argue distorted, through the prism of the researcher and the professional is treated as an isolated individual. The approach adopted for this chapter focuses on ICT professionals in a collective environment, and offers a unique dimension otherwise missing in discussions concerning alienation and dignity and ICT.

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