Congratulations Luis Camacho!

8 07 2020

Congratulations to Luis Camacho who successfully defended his PhD in Planning, Governance, and Globalization on Monday. Luis’s PhD dissertation was entitled “Technology, Participatory Management Practices (PMP), and Dignity at Work: Negotiating the Use of Technology in a Plastics Packaging Firm.” The abstract to his dissertation is provided below.

While every student’s PhD pathway is different, Luis’s accomplishment is particularly notable given the unexpected challenges he faced along the way. The most significant of these was the tragic loss of Prof. John Browder, the co-chair of his PhD committee. When I asked Luis to reflect on his journey, he provided the following remarks about Prof. Browder and gave me permission to share them:

“… my heart falls apart when remembering the inexhaustible kindness, love, joy, and passion Dr. John Browder had for his students. He supported me as I worked to overcome a rough first year of my graduate program and helped me progress to my second year and then on to the PhD. I still remember how excited he was to teach his planning theory class in Alexandria for the first time (a course he had taught for 15 years in Blacksburg). His energy and enthusiasm was contagious. When I transitioned to Blacksburg from Alexandria, he and his wife hosted me at their house and shared Blacksburg’s history with me. As a teacher and advisor, he always challenged us to discover our own pathways and calmed any anxieties we had about our research.”

Prof. Joyce Rothschild served as Luis’s second PhD committee chair until her retirement from Virginia Tech, at which point I became the chair. I am extremely grateful that Prof. Rothschild remained an active external committee member after her retirement. Dr. Daniel BreslauDr. John Provo, and Dr. David Bieri also served as key members of Luis’s PhD committee.

I would describe Luis as one of our most resilient students. Not only was he able to navigate multiple changes to his committee, he faced similar changes during his fieldwork as his position in the firm he was studying evolved, requiring time consuming changes to his research protocol. During his time at Virginia Tech, Luis served as a TA for multiple courses in SPIA and the Real Estate program, taught courses for the VT Honors Program, and worked as a graduate researcher for Dr. David Bieri and for the VT Office of Economic Development.

Luis now plans to return to Colombia, where he hopes to continue his research into the relationship between technology and dignity at work.

Abstract

Since the introduction of Toyota’s Production System, the deployment of lean production systems (or lean manufacturing) and more advanced technological developments, Participatory Management Practices (PMP) have been viewed as lying at the heart of successful manufacturing workplaces. Studies on technology and PMP have concluded that the state of technology in a company unequivocally shapes PMP and can open spaces to enhance the wellbeing of workers regardless of the PMP dynamics. However, these claims are contested by studies that question the positive effects from PMP, arguing that workplaces are organized in such a way that workers are viewed as mere resources to be deployed in the production process, without paying attention to their human morale and agency.

This research presents a case study of a food plastics packaging firm that contextualizes, describes, and analyzes: 1) PMP from a Socio-technical Systems Theory (SST) perspective to further our understanding of the role of participative dynamics in the wellbeing of workers; and 2) the dynamics of control-resistance in the workplace as a measure of dignity at work in the context of power relations. This research provides a rich exploration of a workplace that is facing and managing the challenge of automation and technological development.

Using an extended case study research method, data are collected by observing workers’ daily interactions with a combination of technologies. These observations reveal the importance of team dynamics in the production process. The observed PMP dynamics show conflictive, competitive, and cooperative behaviors that are negotiated through continuous human-machine, machine-machine, and human-human interactions in the production process. However, management is found to be indifferent to the impact that a combination of technologies and lean production approaches have on participation dynamics. This indifference inhibits managers from embracing and appreciating the value of PMP. All the identified expressions of what technology and PMP mean to workers, and their dynamics, show an ongoing negotiating process. This process comes from all types of participation in which a worker struggles for dignity. The organizational structure of the firm expects workers to display specific types of participation in team efforts, but workers are also provided with opportunities to negotiate their interests or struggle for dignity by changing their type of participation in team activities.

The work processes and findings described in this dissertation generally support the theory of Hodson (2001). Further, this research develops the concept of “combination of technologies,” which can be used to help observe workers’ understanding of technology and participative dynamics. The research also identifies various types of participation based on the interactions of workers in the technology process and how workers manage or safeguard their dignity based on their engagement with different types of participation in team-based situations or events. Finally, this research identified how participative engagement by workers can be used as a power mechanism to retain their dignity.





Graduate Seminar in Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development

8 08 2019

Are you a graduate student at Virginia Tech looking for a framework that integrates Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development?

If so … sign up for UAP 5784 (CRN 89423)
Meets Mondays, 9:00 – 11:45am
Room 111, Architecture Annex

This graduate seminar will explore the many dimensions of sustainability and how industry and national, multinational, and international political and legal mechanisms can be used to further sustainable development.





UAP 5784 – Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development

3 08 2018

Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development
UAP 5784 / CRN 90063
Meets: Mondays 9:00 to 11:45am
Location: Architecture Annex 111
Dr. Ralph Hall (rphall@vt.edu)

Overview

This graduate seminar will provide students with a transdisciplinary perspective on sustainable development. It is intended for students interested in planning, policy, economics, business, innovation, environmental studies, and law. The seminar will explore the many dimensions of sustainability and how national, multinational, and international political and legal mechanisms can be used to further sustainable development.

During the seminar we will consider the inter-relationship of global economic changes, inequality, employment, worker health and safety, and environment in the context of theories of development, trade, technical and organizational innovation, and employment. Mechanisms for resolving the apparent conflicts between these elements will be explored.

This seminar is intended to stimulate discussion and critical thinking on the key writings in sustainable development. Students will be evaluated on the basis of their mastery of the materials through (1) written assignments and (2) class participation. The seminar has one required text that will be supplemented by topical readings tailored to student interests.





UAP 5784 – Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development

3 08 2014

This fall semester I will be offering a graduate seminar focused on Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development (UAP 5784; 3 Credits)

Book Review: “This astonishing book is a terrific summary of informa¬tion for those seeking feasible alternatives to the pursuit of infinite growth.” Dennis Meadows, co-author of The Limits to Growth

Book Review: “This astonishing book is a terrific summary of informa¬tion for those seeking feasible alternatives to the pursuit of infinite growth.” Dennis Meadows, co-author of The Limits to Growth

The seminar will meet on Fridays from 12:30pm to 3:15pm, in the Architecture Annex, room 111.

The seminar is designed to provide students with a transdisciplinary perspective on sustainable development. It is intended for students interested in planning, policy, economics, business, innovation, environmental studies, and law. The seminar will explore the many dimensions of sustainability and how national, multinational, and international political and legal mechanisms can be used to further sustainable development.

During the seminar we will consider the inter-relationship of global economic changes, inequality, employment, worker health and safety, and environment in the context of theories of development, trade, technical and organizational innovation, and employment. Mechanisms for resolving the apparent conflicts between these elements will be explored.

This new book will be available in August/September, 2014.

This new book will be available 2014/2015.

The seminar is intended to stimulate discussion and critical thinking on the key writings in sustainable development. Students will be evaluated on the basis of their mastery of the materials through (1) written assignments and (2) class participation and attendance. The seminar has two required texts (see images) that will be supplemented by topical readings tailored to student interests.

During the semester, I will use Google Glass and other video capture devices/software to provide students with enhanced feedback on their assignments and performance in the seminar.





“Mind-full” Learning

7 03 2013

In our New Media Seminar today, I was rather quiet, not because I had nothing to say, but rather because my mind was constantly spinning around the conceptual framework articulated in Douglas Engelbart’s 1962 article entitled “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.”

The essence of Engelbart’s article could be described as constructing a conceptual framework for conceptual frameworks. One of Engelbart’s overarching objectives, articulated so well by Gardner Campbell, was to improve (i.e., augment) the process of thinking and to improve the process of improving the process. You may need to read that last sentence twice!

I found Engelbart’s article intriguing. While reading the article and during our seminar conversation, I found myself trying to deconstruct how I read his article, what I highlighted and why, etc., being mindful of the techniques Engelbart introduces. When describing his framework, Engelbart comments “we have learned quite a few simple tricks for leaving appended road signs, supplementary information, questions, and auxiliary links on our working structures – in such a manner that they never get in our way as we work – so that the visitor to our structure can gain his comprehension and isolate what he wants in marvelously short order.” To me, this is the essence of Engelbart’s process for augmenting knowledge – to find the most elegant way to structure and connect ideas so the “scaffolding” by which the mind had created the knowledge is revealed, furthering learning and advancing knowledge.

One example I have, that connects to my previous post, can be found in the quote below from Engelbart’s article where he talks about his research program:

  • “In particular, the electronic-based experimental program could simulate the types of processes available from electromechanical artifacts, if it seemed possible (from the vantage of experience with the wide range of augmentation processes) that relatively powerful augmentation systems could be based upon their capabilities – but the relative payoffs for providing even-more-sophisticated artifact capabilities could be assessed too so that considerations of how much to invest in capital equipment versus how much increase in human effectiveness to expect could be based upon some experimental data.”
Figure 5 from Engelbart’s article

Figure 5 from Engelbart’s article

If I had the capabilities of Engelbart’s human intellect augmentation system at my fingertips, I would link the latter part of the above quote to my previous post (as I have done), and append substructures on cybernetics, binary economics, innovation and jobs, co-operatives, etc., establishing the scaffolding for a new research agenda targeted at understanding how capital and labor “productiveness” (and the combination of the two) are linked with wealth and what this holds for a sustainable future. What would be interesting is whether revealing the structure of my thought process would enable others to comprehend the ideas faster (and more deeply) than they would have done had they read the same ideas in a proposal or journal article. This question highlights a challenge faced by Engelbart when trying to articulate his ideas. There is a certain irony to writing a “linear” article describing a conceptual framework that is designed to enable you to tear the very same article apart and reconstruct it in a fundamentally different way. I have no doubt that Engelbart’s conceptual framework would enable one to experience complexity usefully, which perhaps best embodies what he was trying to achieve.

Finally, an interesting question raised during our discussion was whether a human intellect augmentation system (as envisioned by Engelbart) would lead to atrophy, automation, or augmentation of the mind. Only time will answer this question.





Kindle Version of Textbook

22 11 2012

A kindle version of our textbook has just been released. For those of you who like to travel light, this might be a more convenient option.





Textbook Makes Ralph Nader’s Holiday Reading List

1 02 2012

In December 2011, Ralph Nader prepared a holiday reading list for the “caring, agitated mind.” The textbook written by Nicholas Ashford and I was listed among the 12 books discussed. Here is what Ralph Nader said about our work:

  • “5. Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development – Transforming the Industrial State by Nicholas A. Ashford and Ralph P. Hall (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2011). This is a big picture, big book integrating the design of multipurpose solutions to the sustainability challenge so that economics, employment, technology, environment, industrial development, national and international law, trade, finance, and public and worker health and safety are taken into account. If the piecemeal frustrates you, try this whole meal.”