Deskilling (1974-1994): 20 years after – in the era of empowerment

Niki Panteli and Martin Corbett

ETHICOMP Journal Vol 1 Issue 1


There is a long-standing debate in the organisational behaviour and information technology (IT) literatures concerning the relationship between new technology and the design of shopfloor and office work. One influential strand of this debate, popularised by the work of Harry Braverman (1974), opines that the introduction of new technology leads to a deskilling of users. In recent years a different, seemingly oppositional, stance has been taken by other researchers. These writers point to the potential of new technology to empower (i.e. enskill) users. This paper briefly reviews this deskilling versus empowerment debate and examines the issues in more depth by means of two short case studies. The paper concludes with a critical examination of the concept of empowerment and argues that, in practice, deskilling and empowerment do not constitute mutually exclusive concepts or trends.