Friday, 18 November 2022
Venue: Georg-Lichtenberg-Haus, Darmstadt
A History of Flexibility
Chair: Martin Krzywdzinski, Hamburg
CV Vincent August
Flexibility and agility have all-too often been classified as guiding principles of a neoliberal age. A critical conceptual history of flexibility, however, shows that ideas of flexibility and agility have been fueled by a rather different mind-set. This mind-set was inspired by cybernetics and succeeded in the crises of the 1970s and 1980s due to deliberate efforts of consultants, intellectuals, and activists. My talk traces the rise of network ideas of flexibility from cybernetics via the “crises of modernity” to becoming a dominant paradigm in management and governance. This allows for a critical re-evaluation of flexibility that highlights its ambivalent consequences. It also contributes to discussing the relation between flexibility and digitalization since cybernetics provided the means for both the rise of the Internet and the rise of network ideas that are older than our digital artefacts.
In sum, I submit “flexibility” and “agility” to a critical conceptual analysis, discussing its history and its ambivalent consequences. In a first step, I locate “flexibility” in a cybernetic framework developed during the 1940s to 1960s. Cybernetics created a conceptual framework that interprets the world in terms of networks, openness, flexibility, connectivity, diversity, and self-organization. It argued that “modern” reasoning, its mechanistic model of linear causality and its humanistic idea of sovereignty are outright naïve. The “old” rationality must therefore be abolished for “a new world view” (Ackoff), “a new way of thinking” (Bateson). The narrative of a new age and a new way of thinking pervades until today, as does the impact of cybernetic ideas.
In a second step, I show how ideas of flexibility had their break-through moment when responding to the watershed crises of the 1970s. I argue that consultants, intellectuals, and activists deliberately drew on cybernetic ideas to re-shape the way we think of society, including its modes of subjectivity, politics, and organization. I present a tableau of responses to the crises and show that the social imaginary of flexible networks diverges significantly from neoliberal narratives and proposals of this time. In other words, two competing responses succeeded in the 1970’s “crises of modernity”, neoliberalism and network ideas.
In a final step, I discuss how network notions of flexibility and agile self-organization transformed our concepts of subjectivity and governance. Flexibility proponents were critical of social integration through the welfare state, of representative institutions such as parties, and of long-term planning. At the same time, permanent flexibility is exhaustive for many, provoking resistance against “change processes” in organizations. Resistance also rose since the network paradigm devalues competing self-descriptions. Responding to these deficits of flexible network ideas, people started turning back to another mind set: sovereignty in the digital (“digital sovereignty”) and beyond (“take back control”).
11:45 – 12:00 – Break
Chair: Kevin Liggieri, Darmstadt
With the assumption that flexibility emerged as a “key concept of social change since the 1970s and the 1980s” on one hand, and that the decisive “flexibilization potential” lies in people on the other, flexibilization in biographical terms and thus education comes into focus. This is because education contributes fundamentally to “producing knowledge about the modern self and thus constituting the universal 'modern self' […]”. In this process, schooling as the institutionalized process of education take on a central role in the configuration of social and subject relations. Ideas of how this should be shaped are based on specific speculative visions of the future, which in their plurality are in competition with each other, struggle for validity, prevent each other or exclude each other. Configurations of the future are therefore a powered affair and the representation of the future itself ultimately becomes a social construction of reality. This also applies to the configuration of vocational education and training, which is supposed to prepare for the working world of tomorrow and thus already has the anticipation of the future in its mandate. Against this backdrop, the central research interest is to identify the subjectivization of flexibilization in future designs within vocational education and training. Particular attention is paid to the 1970s. In the context of debates about flexibilization, deregulation, risk society, neoliberalization or autonomization, “lifelong learning” was propagated at that time as an answer to a situation perceived as precarious and – later on, e.g. since the 1990s –, has been seen as a solution approach for individual adaptations in global economic competition8. Lifelong learning was thus stylized as a “panacea” for society’s risk situations which was collectively prescribed but was to be applied by each individual9. This endeavor led to the development and expansion of further education measures within the framework of vocational training in the sense of a flexible "just-in-time” qualification. The education policy program of lifelong learning can thus be understood as the subjectivization of social problems in the “new capitalism”.
Based on the assumption of a plurality of references to the future, the interest focuses in the first step on the subject matter and the modes (expectation, design, risk or preservation) in which the future is formulated13. In the second step, the images and narratives that are referred to within the subjectivization of flexibilization will be identified. The Swiss Federal Law on Vocational and Professional Education and Training of 1930, the first (1963), the second (1978) and the third revision (2002) serve as the source corpus. They will be analyzed as an expression of future configurations, which will reveal the changes in ‘future action’ (Zukunftshandeln). The paper, which is a first analysis within the framework of a larger project, thus pursues the goal of tracing presented ideas of subjectivization of flexibilization in designs for the future that have found expression in Swiss VET laws since 1930.
Alheit, Peter, and Bettina Dausien. ‘Bildungsprozesse über die Lebensspanne und lebenslanges Lernen’. In Handbuch Bildungsforschung, edited by Rudolf Tippelt and Bernhard Schmidt-Hertha, 4th ed. 2018., 877– 903. Springer Reference Sozialwissenschaften. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-531-19981-8.
Amos, Karin S. ‘“Bildung” in der Spätmoderne. Zur Intersektion von Educational Governance und Gouvernementalität’. Journal für International und Interkulturell Vergleichende Erziehungswissenschaft 15, no. 2 (2009): 81–107.
Arnold, Rolf, Henning Pätzold, and Mario Ganz. ‘Weiterbildung und Beruf’. In Handbuch Erwachsenenbildung/Weiterbildung, edited by Rudolf Tippelt and Aiga von Hippel, 1. Aufl., 931–45. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2018.
Bröckling, Ulrich. Das unternehmerische Selbst: Soziologie einer Subjektivierungsform. [Orig.-Ausg.]. Suhrkamp-Taschenbuch Wissenschaft 1832. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2007.
Graf, Rüdiger, and Benjamin Herzog. ‘Von Der Geschichte Der Zukunft Zur Geschichte Ihrer Generierung’. Geschichte Und Gesellschaft 25 (September 2017).
Iller, Carola. ‘Flexibilisierung’. In Zeit im Lebensverlauf: ein Glossar, edited by Sebastian Schinkel, Fanny Hösel, Sina-Mareen Köhler, Alexandra König, Elisabeth Schilling, Julia Schreiber, Regina Soremski, and Maren Zschach. Sozialtheorie. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2020.
Kemp, Sandra, and Jenny Andersson. Futures. First edition. Oxford Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature. Oxford: University Press, 2021.
Kraus, Katrin. Lebenslanges Lernen – Karriere einer Leitidee. Bielefeld, Germany: Bertelsmann Verlag, 2001. https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-207681.
Luhmann, Niklas. ‘The Future Cannot Begin: Temporal Structures in Modern Society’. Social Research 43, no. 1 (1976): 130–52.
Neumaier, Christopher. ‘“Flexibility” and “Agility”: Strategies, Practices, and Ambivalences of a Key Concept since the 1980s.’ H-Soz-Kult, 27 March 2022. www.hsozkult.de/event/id/event-116753.
Sennett, Richard. ‘Die Kultur des neuen Kapitalismus’. In Zukunftsentwürfe: Ideen für eine Kultur der Veränderung, edited by Jörn Rüsen, Hanna Leitgeb, and Norbert Jegelka. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 1999.
In the UK – one half of the original ‘Anglo-American Model’ – ‘flexibilization’ and ‘informalization’ of labour markets and indeed work, are in 2022 glaringly apparent in the lives of a significant section of the general workforce, about seven million peoplei in chronically insecure, that is precarious, and contingent work (Kalleberg 2009 Arnold and Bongiovi, 2012).
From Zero-Hours Contracts, where the only guarantee is that there is no guarantee of anything from week to week for the worker, least of all any guaranteed hours of work – what can be defined by paraphrasing Marx “Instead of the extensive amount of labour, its intensive amount increased” – to the phenomenon of ‘Bogus Self-Employment’ where any kind of economic activity is classified as ‘self- employment’ despite this involving many of the relations of employment minus employer obligations – there is a distinct trend that can be historically traced to the ‘Anglo-American Model’ of capitalism. This model can also be understood as perhaps the prototype of Neoliberalism: both ‘flexibility’ and ‘agility’ finding their origins in the geometric economic, social and political changes inaugurated in 1979 in the UK, and 1980 in the US (Harvey 2005v Bourdieu 1998)
Such contemporary examples of the social reality of ‘flexibility’ as it exists in one of the two countries bequeathing Neoliberalism to the world, the UK, illustrate how the preference for corporate and policy usage of body and health metaphors and of course breathless positivity for describing the imposition of what is best for capital. ‘Flexibilization’ and ‘Informalization’ (of forms of work can be said to be the ideological mask for the re-structuring of both a significant section of the workforce: roughly a quarter in the UK and the tendency across all sectors of the economy to inculcate these terms in the workplace and indeed in workers, even if three quarters of jobs remain ‘permanent’ and with ‘secure’ contracts.
Indeed, the proposed paper, whilst being theoretical and qualitative rather than empirical and quantitative, is based in the traditions of Marx and the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and it makes use of contemporary examples to illustrate its thesis. One of these is what has come to be known as the ‘gig economy’. Like ‘Bogus Self-Employment’, many of the rudiments of employment remain in place for as long as the ‘gig’ does, without however any of the those going with actual employment, thus allowing employers to circumvent them altogether, the ‘independent contractor’ made to shoulder both liabilities and costs.
Whilst the ‘gig economy’ of the 2020s which first became widely known and understood in the 2010s, exists across the advanced economies of the global north in such a way as to be globalized, in the US and UK it appears that much more prevalent than in Continental Europe or the countries of the Asia Pacific region; this being so because in these two countries originating neoliberalism, fractional ‘gigs’ of work inadequate in terms of remuneration and unequal to satisfying needs are in keeping with what began in 1979 in the UK and 1980 in the US and has continued – albeit with modifications – ever since.
This paper contends that Neoliberalism is predicated on the concepts of ‘flexibility’ and ‘agility’ and these make for ideological masks to hide the social reality or social ontology of ‘precarity’ in which the whole of life is thrown into indefinite flux and uncertainty (Bourdieu 1962/1979 Burawoy 1979 Sennett 1999 Beck 2000) consistent with the normalization of forms of work that are chronically insecure and precarious. In the UK example what may be defined as a wholesale re-structuring and re-composition of the capital-labour relation that is wholly to the advantage of capital and the disadvantage of labour: an historical process that has unfolded over the last 40 years and very apparent in contemporary examples in the paper’s case study of the UK.
15.30 – 16.00 – Break
Work Processes: Promises/Policies of Flexibility
Chair: Tanja Paulitz, Darmstadt
Implemented as a strategy to interrupt chains of infections in the first place, home office was largely distributed among German employees in 2020. And even two years into the global pandemic it is still part of many peoples’ everyday life. Working remote or from home during times of Covid-19 is, however, a possibility that was and still is unequally distributed among the German society. As recent data for 2020 and 2021 shows, it is mostly people with a high socio-economic status that got to transfer their employment from the office to home. Much more often than socially less privileged people, this social group pursues jobs that are highly digitizable and thus independent from place and time, what in turn might explain their higher home office rates during Covid-19.
Linking this result to the finding that high spatial mobility benefits one’s social mobility, an interesting research question emerges in this context: How does the limited spatial mobility due to home office affect people's social mobility? In fact, this text is asking whether new possibilities or even social upward mobility arise through the mechanism of flexibilization or singularisation of time and space. Furthermore, the question arises which further positive potential for change within work processes but also within the private sphere is emerging from the dissolution of space and time in labour relations?
In 24 semi-structured qualitative interviews academically qualified employees gave insights into their private and labour-related changes through their experiences with mobile work. The interview sample concentrates on workers from the so called „new middle class“, that is highly mobile with regard to social and spatial mobility. As flexibilization requires high levels of mobility this group has the potential for positive changes. In fact, the new middle class is characterized by a high cultural and partly also socio-economical capital and therefore can easily adapt to new time and space structures.
The interviews show that with reducing labour related spatial mobility the interviewees could overcome socio-structural and spatial boarders. Through mobile work the mechanism of time- space compression paves the way for better jobs, in-service trainings and further increases standards of accessibility. Moreover, the flexibilization of space and time of work can positively affect quality of life in the private sphere e.g. allowing more time for (online) sport courses or better time management and gender balance within care work.
We conclude that flexibilization and the phenomenon of time space compression coming along with it can affect the social status of the new middle class in a positive way. Besides these benefits on the micro level, mobile work might as well initiate a change on the societal level as shifts in the meanings of spatial mobility and place of residence occur. However, if the access to flexible working structures like home office remain unequally distributed and follow a digital divide, flexibilization through home office could as well lead to increasing social inequality among the German society.
In the 1980s, the rationalization efforts of public administrations were combined with a policy of flexibilization. The future vision of a paperless office had been more and more abandoned. Rather, it was the well-organized and flexible change of media that promised an increase in efficiency (Landau 1979). The industry provided just the right equipment for this reorganization of workflow. PCs connected through local networks were predestinated tools to flexibilize administrative action. A network allowed concurrent processing of data and new communication technologies accelerated the internal flow of information. At the PC, civil servants, clerks, secretaries and support staff became users and found themselves more and more involved into digital space (Schwendener 1983).
A policy of flexibilization required adjustments of the existing organizational structures (Sennett 1998). The paper argues that personal and distributed computing supported these adjustments by leveling and redefining distinctive features. To connect offices and departments to the local network and make their administrative tasks compatible with the digital space often demanded restructuring a unit as a whole. These processes opened up space to imply new principles and priorities. The paper follows the negotiations that accompanied these configurations between the administration and the applied technological infrastructure. It aims to examine the nature of these individual adjustments in order to better understand the impact of flexibilization processes as they took place in the 1980s.
Using an office automation project in the Swiss Federal Administration as a case study, this paper examines the small-scale economies of a policy of flexibilization. Bevor the 1980s, computers had promised efficiency as long as the user base was kept small and the required tasked stayed highly formalized (Gugerli 2018). In the 1980s, heterogeneous users and ever new administrative areas shifted into the digital space. For this proliferation to be efficient, new handling was needed. The concept of flexibility enabled the necessary reinterpretation. Under these conditions, it became possible to discuss questions about the relative autonomy of users and the ways of regulation within the network. In order for state activity to become compatible with digital space, data protection and data integrity had to be ensured even with concurrent access, paperwork had to remain coherent even within digital transmission and staff had to remain accountable even in changing organizational structures (Diener et al. 1985; Summers 1985).
For this purpose, I refer to sources on the digitization of the Swiss Federal Administration from the Swiss Federal Archives as well as on computer history. The micro-historical study asks what effects a policy of flexibilization had on the distinction between office work and administrative action in the Federal Administration in the 1980s and what consequences that policy had for the federal personnel.
Diener, Andreas and Andreas Dudler, 1985: Integrity Subsystems of Distributed Database System for Workstations, in: ACM, pp. 364-372.
Gugerli, David, 2018: Wie die Welt in den Computer kam. Zur Entstehung digitaler Realität. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer.
Landau, Robert, 1979: Productivity, Information Technology and the Office, in: Proceedings of the 2nd Annual International ACM SIGIR Conference on Information Storage and Retrieval: Information Implications into the Eighties, pp. 59-63.
Schwendener, Fritz, 1983: Persönliche Computer für Verwaltungsaufgaben? Eine Studie mit Informationen, Empfehlungen und Einsatzkonzept für die Bundesverwaltung. Bern, BfO.
Sennett, Richard, 1998: The Corrosion of Character. New York: Norton.
Summers, Rita et al., 1985: Design and Implementation of a Resource Sharing System as an Extension to a Personal Computer Operating System, in: Proceedings of the 1985 ACM SIGSMALL Symposium on Small Systems, pp. 206-216.
In the last two decades, a new type of robots has emerged. Unlike the established manufacturing robots that operate behind fences, these collaborative robots (so called cobots) are designed to collaborate with humans in their immediate proximity. The introduction of cobots is associated with high expectations realizing entirely new forms of flexibility in industrial manufacturing.
Based on empirical findings from our DFG research project SoCoRob, we present a typology of different promises of flexibilization associated with the use of new industrial collaborative robots. Furthermore, we contrast those promises and narratives of flexi- bilization to the current empirical reality of the use of collaborative robots based on interview data from engineers, implementers and from personal of sales departments from robot manufacturers. Thus we want to evaluate the role of cobots for the process of flexibilization in the sector of industrial manufacturing.
So far, we identified the following types of narratives that address different aspects of flexibility in the industrial sector.
The first promise of cobots we identified is related to the dimension of products, i.e. the use of cobots promises an increased flexibility of production quantity as well as production range. The cobots are supposed to enable manufacturers to respond more quickly than before to changing customer needs and market changes, in particular with the features of programming by handguiding and the possibility of being installed with- out a protective fence.
The second type of narratives refers to the flexibilization of means of production, in other words, to increase the options in production processes with cobots. Classic industrial robots are spatially inflexible with their safety fences and are thus usually bound to a physical location and a work task. Cobots instead are allowed to work without a protective fence and are lightweight. These properties should enable them to be deployed flexibly at different locations in a factory without the need for major work- station changes. In addition, the cobots should be able to be configured for new work tasks and requirements by hand guidance without programming skills by factory workers. Working in direct collaboration, through the combination of human and robotic capabilities, is also described to provide further flexibility advantages in the accomplish- ment of work tasks.
A third type of narratives describes increasing flexibility in the labor market using cobots, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises. For example, one narrative is that the simple programming of cobots by non-experts can make companies largely
independent of expensive programming experts, giving them more flexibility in the labor market.
Lastly, we also identified narratives which aim at increasing possibilities to design work- places in ergonomic terms by cobots. Unergonomic tasks can now be given to cobots in direct collaboration without installing a fence.
We want to discuss this typology, contrast it with our empirical material, and also relate it to earlier promises of flexibility regarding the introduction of industrial robots in the 1980s and 1990s.
c. 19.30 – Conference Dinner
Saturday, 19 November 2022
Venue: Georg-Lichtenberg-Haus, Darmstadt
Re-Organization – Flexibility/Agility
Chair: Julia Erdogan, Stuttgart
The relevance of high-reliability organizations (HRO) like security and healthcare organizations, the need for a deeper understanding of organizational processes and their influencing factors have recently been brought to the fore with force by events such as the global COVID-19 pandemic and environmental disasters in Eu- rope. These organizations are among other things characterized by a high degree of flexibility, both in terms of processes and flexibility of the individual team members. The aim of the presentation is to shed light on the discussion about the interrelation of formalization and digitalization and their influence on flexibility in HRO on a conceptual basis and with reference to empirical results of the DFG project ANDROMEDA (“Auton- omy and control in digital work contexts of high-reliability organizations: The cases of medical centers and airports”) as well as to derive critical issues for the discussion of flexibility preservation in digitalized HRO contexts. HRO are characterized by the fact that they frequently face crises, uncertainties, and unexpected events and operate in a dynamic environment. At the same time, they ensure the reliable continuity of op- erations, since errors in these organizations can have fatal consequences for life and limb of a large number of people. Team collaboration in HRO is designed to ensure a high level of reliability. This requires trusting, highly specialized, interdisciplinary collaboration among individual team members characterized by extensive interactions. HRO team members are also regularly confronted with critical decision-making situations and high levels of physical and psychological stress. Identification with this particular type of collaboration, as well as the corresponding interaction patterns within digitalized HRO contexts, are essentially constituted by corresponding sensemaking processes, which are relevant for the interaction patterns in the digitalized HRO contexts. These in turn are based on the identity and self-conception of the acting individuals. Identity con- sequently represents a crucial component for interaction, sensemaking, and trust but specifically also a cen- tral influencing factor for actions in digitalized HRO work contexts. In the professional practice of HRO, iden- tity is constantly being reshaped in order to remain flexible and is influenced in the process by interaction with team members, organizational members, and also in the specific interaction with other professional groups.
As in other work contexts, team collaboration in HRO is also influenced by digitalization. Changes can be observed with regard to work content, the technologies used, working hours, and in some cases also with regard to the place of work. Digitalized processes can come along with a high degree of formalization, which can make it difficult to react quickly and flexibly to unexpected events. These processes must be identified and taken into account, particularly in HRO, in order to ensure high responsiveness despite formalization. The self-conception of the acting individuals and, consequently, their (professional) identity play a crucial role in the digitalization of work processes, as they are both shaped by and influence the patterns of interac- tion and action. In order to maintain both security and flexibility under these circumstances, HROs exhibit a special degree of openness and closeness. Flexibility in this context refers to the ability to react reliably to unexpected events, since errors in the work processes can have far-reaching consequences for a large num- ber of people.
Consequently, this presentation focuses on the interrelation between formalization and digitalization in HRO to stimulate an examination of the resulting flexibility and to derive critical issues and starting points for empirical research on maintaining flexibility in digitalized HRO contexts.
The economic decline of the 1970s initiated a new quest for rationalization measures. Two opposing paths appeared most promising to increase economic efficiency: automation that included robotization and digitalization as well as a reorganization of work that included group work. In particular, this paper reviews the latter approach and thereby I will shed a new light on the rationalization of automotive production in West Germany between the 1970s and 1990s: When, where, and why were working principles reorganized to initiate a shift from a rigid assembly line system to flexible group work? Who initiated this process? How was group work implemented on the shop floor? How did management and workers perceive this change and how did this affect their attitude towards rationalization?
I will argue that even though group work appeared as one crucial principle to improve economic efficiency, it was never unanimously accepted. This was linked to two facts: First, only when flexibilization became a leitmotif of automotive production during the 1980s, group work appeared more promising than the technological approach to rationalization – robotization, and digitalization. Second, different concepts of group co-existed that were linked either to management principles or labor union objectives, such as the “humanization of work life”.
11:15 – 11:45 – Break
Software / Agile Practices
Chair: Martin Schmitt, Darmstadt
Sticky notes, pin boards, dashboards – we are surrounded by formats that are supposed to render work and planning processes “agile”. These formats have led to a temporal micro-structuring and simultaneous spatial macro-structuring of plans in software-, logistics- and management consulting industries, especially since the second half of the 20th century. Despite this ubiquity, temporal- (Klages, 1978) and media historiography (Koch et al., 2015), among others, assume an “end of planning” starting in the 1970s. However, these discourses on the history of planning reveal a blind spot – agile planning formats. Beginning in the second half of the 20th century, agile approaches to the capitalist organization of labor, goods, and technologies emerged and became entangled with planning formats. No longer did planning occur only in large-scale command economies: Work was and is in-formed daily through plans (Krajewski, 2007). In contrast to the focus on large-scale command economies, the paper therefore takes a look at micro-temporal planning formats from the 1970s onwards. More specifically, on the designing and marketing of such formats by a German management consultancy, a group of software developers and a logistics company in the second half of the 20th century. Using these case studies, I will trace the operative role of “agile formats” from 1972 to 2001 and draw on them to highlight the importance of micro-temporal plans in the capitalist organization of work from the second half of the 20th century onwards.
As a short critical approach to the formatting of work, the paper asks how, based on different concepts of agility, seemingly universal planning media were developed from the 1970s onwards, which, starting from “special purposes”, were later marketed as general solutions. Thereby, the paper traces the pre- and early history of so-called “Agile Methods” and the “Agile Manifesto” (Beck et al., 2001), which contributed to the popularization of the agility concept also outside the software industry (Posner, 2022). A particular focus of the paper lies on the micro-temporal formatting of agility concepts. Therefore, the presentation combines an entangled historical perspective on the global history of agile formats (Randeria & Eckert, 2015) with micro-historical studies on the formatting of agile planning from 1972 onwards. Methodologically, the paper draws on archival studies, software analyses and oral history interviews with contemporary witnesses.
Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., Grenning, J., Highsmith, J., Hunt, A., Jeffries, R., Kern, J., Marick, B., Robert C., Mellor, S., Schwaber, K., Sutherland, J., & Thomas, D. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. https://agilemanifesto.org
Klages, H. (1978). Planung – Entwicklung – Entscheidung: Wird die Geschichte herstellbar? Historische Zeitschrift 226, 226, 529–546.
Koch, M., Köhler, C., & Othmer, J. (2015). Planlos! Zur Einführung.: Bd. Planlos! Zu den Grenzen von Planbarkeit. Wilhelm Fink.
Krajewski, M. (2007). In Formation. Aufstieg und Fall der Tabelle als Paradigma der Datenverarbeitung. Nach Feierabend. Zürcher Jahrbuch für Wissensgeschichte, 37–55.
Posner, M. (2022). Agile and the Long Crisis of Software. Logic, 16(Clouds). https://logicmag.io/clouds/agile-and-the-long-crisis-of-software/
Randeria, S., & Eckert, A. (Hrsg.). (2015). Vom Imperialismus zum Empire: Nicht-westliche Perspektiven auf Globalisierung (2. Auflage). Suhrkamp.
If people discuss agile methodologies two points are often obvious. The first one is that in many articles and discussions on agile methods it is stated that they emerged somehow during the 1990s as a reaction to other methodologies such as the so- called waterfall model. A major milestone or turning point in this development was the famous Agile Manifesto that appeared in 2001 (Beck et al. 2001). A second one deals with the perception of agile as “one” specific methodology. Often it culminates in the point that the SCRUM methodology, which is according to different surveys nowadays by far the most widespread one, is taken as “the” agile methodology. Obviously, both points are interrelated and based on a set of misperceptions of this development. Foremost, the agile manifesto was only the minimum common denominator between very different approaches and methodologies addressing a set of common issues that emerged in very different environments within and without the field of software development.
Even the early works researching into the roots of agile methods, which are mostly based on anecdotal accounts about the use of iterative or similar approaches in software development practices before the 1990s, does not really challenge these simplifications (f.e. Larman & Basili 2003, Abbas et al. 2008). Moreover, by using only few examples of early applications they actually contribute to the narrative of agile methods as a reaction to other software development approaches. Only in recent years a few papers show that agile methodologies can be traced back to a variety of developments in different industries (f.e. Rigby et al. 2016). This variety of different roots ranges from different types of software development processes and traditional production processes to innovation management approaches underlines the need to analyze their impact.
The aim of this contribution is to provide an overview on these traditions and show how these different traditions or roots impacted the evolution of the variety of agile methodologies. In particular it should be analyzed how specific tools and processes have travelled across the different approaches. Based on two examples, namely the Japanese production systems and the Scandinavian approaches to user-centric system development, the impact on main methodologies such as SCRUM and XP will be analyzed and discussed. Furthermore, their relations to other developments like the discussions on software engineering and software factories will be discussed, which aims at highlighting differences and commonalities in the underlying conceptual traditions such as the Taylorism or team-based processes. It should be reflected how this results in different modes of managerial control in particular in agile methodologies, which are often neglected in research (Boes et al. 2018).
Abbas, N., Gravell, A. M., & Wills, G. B. (2008, June). Historical roots of agile methods: Where did “Agile thinking” come from?. In International conference on agile
processes and extreme programming in software engineering (pp. 94-103). Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.
Beck, K., Grenning, J., Martin, R. C., Beedle, M., Highsmith, J., Mellor, S., van Bennekum, A., Hunt, A., Schwaber, K., Cockburn, A., Jeffries, R., Sutherland, J., Cunningham, W., Kern, J., Thomas, D., Fowler, M., Marick, B. (2001). “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”. Agile Alliance.
Boes, A., Kämpf, T., Lühr, T., & Ziegler, A. (2018). Agilität als Chance für einen neuen Anlauf zum demokratischen Unternehmen?. Berliner Journal für Soziologie, 28(1), 181-208.
Larman, C., & Basili, V. R. (2003). Iterative and incremental developments. a brief history. Computer, 36(6), 47-56.
Larman, C., & Basili, V. R. (2003). Iterative and incremental developments. a brief history. Computer, 36(6), 47-56.
Rigby, D. K., Sutherland, J., & Takeuchi, H. (2016). The secret history of agile innovation. Harvard Business Review, 4-9.
13.15 – 14:00 Lunch
Extant scholarship has typically attributed the massive market power held by Big Tech corporations to these firms’ special ability to wield data and algorithms to boost their competitive advantage (Zuboff, 2019), their extraordinary capacity to manipulate, influence or dominate market competition (Jacobides, 2019; Khan, 2017) and their use of legal frameworks and evolving constructions in order to protect their corporate interests (Cohen, 2019). However, these attributions miss an important contemporary source of power by these corporations – that is, their ability to support agile software development through their computational infrastructures (CI). These infrastructures allow them not only to activate available strategic resources but also to increasingly direct and coordinate the logistics of things in the world – the global flow of goods and services, money, and people.
Computational infrastructures (e.g., cloud, smartphones, sensors) purport to make possible the programmability of common infrastructures such as roadways, schools and transportation systems (Gurses, Poon & Dobbe, 2020). The promise is that by adding a digital layer onto common infrastructures, they can become more flexible, manageable and easy to reconfigure like digital systems (Gurses, Poon & Dobbe, 2020). Viewed in this way, CI do not only support software production through the delivery of critical computing assets and enabling agile software development. They also provide the material basis for Big Tech to expand to other sectors by capturing private and public operations. For example, the cloud has been very instrumental in Google’s capture of educational operations through Google Classroom (Gulson et al., 2021). The criticality of CI in the expansion of Big Tech power highlights the importance of understanding its emergence.
In this proposed paper, I contend that agility is a mechanism that can help us understand the rise of CI. In particular, the (silent and seemingly harmless) expansion of CI can be understood in relation to how it coevolved with processes and principles surrounding agile production. To expound on this, ‘agile manufacturing’ as a buzzword for a new manner of organizing global production arose in early 1990s (Nagel & Dove, 1991). There is a way in which principles surrounding agile manufacturing have entered software development practice (Kettunen, 2006), giving rise to agile software development as a new mode of organizing software production in the early 2000s (Beck et al., 2001). Since then, computational infrastructures have been erected to support and execute agile software development (Gürses, 2021). Today, the entanglement of agility and CI have expanded beyond software production into sectors such as education, transportation and manufacturing.
Given the abovementioned historical imbrication of agility and CI, the paper investigates the different genealogies of agility and locates CI in these genealogies. It utilizes historical sources as means to gain access to the unfolding of a class of technological objects – that is, CI – and to identify how its varied forms evolved in storylines related to agility. This unpacks the role of computation and infrastructuralization in supporting visions of ‘agility’ and vice versa. Moreover, it contributes to elucidating how CI has been shaped and is shaped by the business of computing.