2004 - Volume 45 > Numéro 1

ISSN 0035-2969

From manual worker to operator : Chronicle of a retraining process

pp. 69-102


What is behind the semantic shift from manual worker to operator ? For some analysts, it is part and parcel of a new model, « competence », which promises to « return work to the worker » (Philippe Zarifian) through increased attention to worker participation. The idea put forward and defended in this article is that far from bringing to a halt the process of separating work from the worker, the « competence » model actually pushes that process forward. Indeed, the new model is bringing about enterprise occupation normalization. The model is based on a fully developed « arrangement » in Foucault’s sense of the term for transforming the manual worker into an operator. To demonstrate this, the article presents the ideal in which a particular figure of the operator is inscribed and anticipated, and analyzes how a new type of work discipline becomes instituted in industrial shops. The adaptation and resistance modes thereby activated in the worker raise the question of what this new situation means, a question which, thus put, encompasses considerations of the types of properties workers are recognized as having and the various means and media they dispose of for freely choosing their activity.



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