Supermarkets Transformed: Understanding Organizational and Technological Innovations (The Rose Series of the American Sociological Association)

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9780813519692: Supermarkets Transformed: Understanding Organizational and Technological Innovations (The Rose Series of the American Sociological Association)
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Over the last forty years, the small grocery stores of the 1950s have given way to the huge, technologically advanced supermarkets and superstores of the 1990s.  John P. Walsh analyzes the changes in the supermarket industry, the advent and implementation of various technologies, and the effects of those innovations on store management, workers, and customers.  He relates his observations to general theories about work and labor of the past forty years.

Drawing from trade journals and interviews with management and workers, Walsh investigates issues such as the de-skilling of meatcutters; the introduction of computers for price scanning and ordering; and the decentralization of decision-making that came with the advent of specialty departments in the superstores.

Walsh takes a positive view of technological innovation.  He examines worker reactions to new technologies in the supermarket, arguing that workers were not deskilled by innovation, but "re-skilled."  New technologies gave them more responsibility, and added a new level of complexity to their jobs.  Rather than alienating workers, Walsh explains, this new responsibility, combined with the greater worker autonomy that specialization created, led employees to have a greater sense of pride in their work.  Using the SuperStores chain, where workers get both responsibility and autonomy, as evidence, Walsh shows decentralization to be a stable organizational model. 

Walsh explores some of the unresolved conflicts in the supermarket industry, such as price-scanning computers. He also addresses the low status of women and service workers––most of whom are women––in the supermarket, even as service becomes a priority in the industry. 

Using both organization theory and labor process theory, Walsh develops what he calls "the politicized context model of innovation."  He presents a new explanation for the development and implementation of technology.  In this innovative contribution to the study of industrial and organizational sociology, Walsh argues that decentralization creates more interesting jobs while enhancing the status and skills of workers.

 

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