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new technology

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Any set of productive techniques which offers a significant improvement (whether measured in terms of increased output or savings in costs) over the established technology for a given process in a specific historical context. Defined thus, what is seen as new is obviously subject to continual redefinition, as successive changes in technology are undertaken.

At the time of writing, the current new technologies that are of most interest to sociologists are the information and communications technologies based on microelectronics, the application of which is said by some to be revolutionizing the organization of work. Among the trends which have been identified as alleged consequences of these technologies are those towards de-skilling, proletarianization, automation, telecommuting, flexible employment, just-in-time systems, and the creation of dual or split labour-markets and a new international division of labour—all of which are dealt with separately in this dictionary. The assumed effects of new technology sometimes form the basis for apocalyptic accounts of wholesale social change—as, for example, in the theories of post-industrial and self-service societies.

Systematic sociological research invariably reveals that all of these tendencies and theories are overstated by their authors, and that the social and political impact of new technologies is complex and contingent, being subject to variations in managerial strategies, worker resistance, and a host of other cultural and political circumstances (see, for example, the series of case-studies reported in B. Wilkinson's The Shopfloor Politics of the New Technology, 1983).

Subjects: Social sciencesSociology

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