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Adler's theory of the capitalist labour process: a pale(o) imitation

Thompson, P. (2007) Adler's theory of the capitalist labour process: a pale(o) imitation. Organization Studies, 28 (9). pp. 1359-1368. ISSN 0170-8406

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Abstract

Adler's paper raises a host of pertinent theoretical and empirical challenges for anyone interested in contemporary trends in work and organization. A version of 'paleo' Marxism is invoked to correct the supposed anomalies of labour process theory and the limits of critical management studies. The theory relies on a notion of the progressive socialization of the productive forces in order to assert a positive conception of Taylorism and lean production, as well as a long-run upskilling trajectory. It is argued in this commentary that it is flawed theory and skewed empirics. Adler's perspectives result in a de-politicized workplace by removing any source of conflict over work relations between capital and labour. His evidence of skill upgrading relies overwhelmingly on a series of unreliable proxies that do not deal with actual work relations. In contrast, the commentary defends the record of labour process theory on issues of skill formation and the workplace as a contested terrain.