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A critical examination of the work intensification question : Ethnography and history on the Peugeot–Sochaux assembly line - N. Hatzfeld

Nicolas Hatzfeld
Laboratoire d’Histoire Économique, Sociale et des Techniques, Université d’Evry, 2, rue du Facteur Cheval, 91000 Evry, France

Available online 1 March 2007 on ScienceDirect

Using a historical and ethnographic approach to study work at the Peugeot–Sochaux factory during the late 20th century leads to taking a less unifying, generalized view of work intensification. First, variations in labor rules and the diversity of related problems bring to light the tensions underlying the ongoing issue of workloads. Second, identifying precise moments at which workloads actually became heavier suggests that in order to follow real developments effectively it is preferable to think in terms of a plurality of periods and tendencies. Above all, study of Sochaux plant shops leads us away from a quantitative, abstract view of work intensification. Examining concrete changes in working conditions and technical components over the long-term makes it easier to grasp the notion of work process intensification and makes that notion richer and more relevant for analysis of work worlds.

Keywords : Work intensification ; Assembly line ; Factory ; Speedups ; Peugeot ; France ; Workloads ; Work pace

Article Outline

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Plea for an ethnographic and historical study from the inside
  • 3. Ever faster ? Questioning what seems an obvious fact
    • 3.1. The expression of an incessant worry
    • 3.2. Productivity : situated techniques
  • 4. Productivity and intensification : the limits of arithmetic
    • 4.1. Identifiable moments when workload was increased
    • 4.2. Time regulations are first and foremost social techniques
  • 5. Why a qualitative approach ?
    • 5.1. Another definition originating with workers : not as uncomfortable but more difficult
    • 5.2. A neglected type of intensification, that of the factory as a whole
  • 6. Conclusion
  • References
  • Film cited

Sociologie du Travail
Volume 49, Supplement 1, March 2007, Pages e1–e15
Translation by Amy Jacobs