Labour Studies Index

Knowledge, Organization and the Division Of Labour: Evaluating the Knowledge Class in Canada

Document type Thesis
Author Scholtz, Antonie
Degree Ph.D., Sociology and Equity Studies in Education
Publisher University of Toronto; Toronto
Date 2013-08-13
Pages 506


This dissertation explores the claim that, in advanced capitalist countries like Canada, a powerful knowledge class is assuming increasing dominance within the social relations of production. Attached to such theories are claims of trends toward post-bureaucratic organizations, rising job complexity and autonomy, and increased power within operational and strategic decision-making processes. In my study I focus on Canadian “specialist” employees (professionals and semi-professionals) and managers. I present aggregated and disaggregated data from two Canadian surveys conducted in 1983 and 2004 and complement this with original interviews with information technology (IT) workers and engineers. I find a seeming paradox within the labour process of specialists and managers, with task-level autonomy declining even as job complexity and involvement in organizational decisions are rising. I provide evidence that imperatives for profit/cost effectiveness are leading to efforts to make specialist and managerial labour and knowledge more transparent, integrated, and manageable, but this is not the same as degradation or proletarianization. In contrast to my expectation, I find boundaries in the division of labour are durable despite this “socialization” of many labour processes. I argue that a specialist-and-managerial class (SMC) exists in Canada, and will continue to exist, though it is subordinate to and exploited by the capitalist elite even as it excludes and exploits the working class through occupational closure and credential barriers. The SMC is thus contradictory, internally heterogeneous and fraying at its borders, but simultaneously resilient. The resiliency comes via possession of specific strategic knowledge and consequent ability to secure rents and/or control specific organization assets via delegated authority. Resiliency is also structural, with management in many organizations retaining an interest in separating planning and design (“conception”), on the one hand, from process and completion (“execution”), on the other, in order to maximize efficiency and productivity through more centralized control.