SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Post-Automation

Post-automation is a proposition that challenges portrayals of automation as an inevitable technological force in society. There is nothing automatic about automation. Automation takes the affordances of communication, computation and control (‘the 3Cs’) in digital technologies and adapts them to particular social purposes, notably labour productivity, managerial control, and capital accumulation. Automation theory focuses upon how best to adapt societies (through business strategies and public policies) to technological trajectories that fulfil those purposes, without really interrogating the assumptions and values dominating the direction of those trajectories. Intriguingly, many of the digital technological components deployed in automation can and are being developed and used otherwise, within alternative social relationships, pursuing different social values and purposes, and with different conceptions of society in mind. Post-automation explores those more open sociotechnical arrangements by learning with groups and initiatives that are developing and using digital technology in pursuit of sustainable development, social justice and human creativity. 

Man repairing technologyRestart Project CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Post-automation is about cultivating digital affordances for collaboration, conviviality and creativity (the other 3Cs). Post-automation is a concept in the making. The idea is sparked by the observation that, globally, groups of people are appropriating and hacking digital technologies for design, prototyping, and manufacture that were implicated initially in successive waves of automation: code, sensors, actuators, computer numerically controlled machine tools, design software, microelectronics, internet platforms, 3D scanners/printers, video, etc. In opening up and re-appropriating these technologies for plural purposes, these diverse initiatives help to democratise technology, by subjecting it to critical scrutiny and the affirmative prioritisation of values like sustainability, social justice and human creativity.

Clues and hints about post-automation emerge in diverse places: hackerspaces, makerspaces and fablabs; citizen monitoring platforms and open science projects; open hardware platforms and grassroots innovation initiatives; new crafting practices; repair, repurposing and upcycling workshops; libraries and educational institutes opening technology to popular experimentation; citizen laboratories and DIY urbanism; workplace struggles for human-centred, democratic technology; commons-based peer-production; and open platforms for direct democracy. Many of these places work through networks that cut across conventional categories; appearing simultaneously to constitute a movement and infrastructure for social relations with technology. These people-centred activities present a radically different horizon to the depopulated visions of cyber-physical systems in Industry 4.0.

Post-Automation? Towards Democratic Alternatives to Industry 4.0

Post automation logoIn September 2019, Professor Adrian Smith and Dr Mariano Fressoli convened a workshop on Post-Automation? Towards Democratic Alternatives to Industry 4.0.

The workshop explored the idea of post-automation, critically and constructively.

Twenty-seven researchers from eleven different countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe presented theoretically-informed and empirically-grounded papers that addressed what a “post-automation” vantage point might bring to ongoing debates about how societies produce and consume technologies, and in light of social concern for sustainable developments, dignified work and social justice, and a business-led push for Industry 4.0 and circular economy

Please see the full outline of the Workshop.

Read the full Conference report 

Conference papers

Related projects

Smart Urbanism 

This 3-year pan-European project analysed encounters and tensions between formal, corporate-led smart city initiatives and the multitude of informal ‘do-it-yourself’ grassroots initiatives in smart urbanism. A key question was to investigate how ‘smart’ developments, in all their diverse forms, nevertheless share particular ways of ‘knowing the city’ – based in computational networks, sensors and inferences - and how a new politics of knowing and intervening in the city is arising.

Digital Fabrication 

The aim of this research project was to produce a systematic analysis of users of digital fabrication technologies in non-industrial settings, and to learn whether and how their use contributes to subjective wellbeing and human development.