Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Harry F. Dahms

Committee Members

Jon Shefner, Paul K. Gellert


Over the last several decades, scholars and commentators from a variety of different fields, expertise, and ideological positions have written on automation technologies and their potential to cause technological unemployment. As a sociological analysis and critical examination of how experts ideologically frame these issues, this thesis demonstrates that ideology plays a crucial role in the revived debate over automation and technological displacement. Weberian ideal types are developed to demonstrate how three major ideological positions—liberal, conservative, and radical—approach and frame the link between automation, technological displacement, and the potential for technological unemployment. The qualitative tools of ideal type construction and theme analysis facilitate synthesis and reconstruction as ideal types the most salient aspects of each ideological perspective on the link between automation and technological displacement.

The liberal ideal type focuses on how liberal concerns that the present circumstances (“this time”) may be different, that predicted technological displacement will greatly exacerbate economic inequality, and that technological unemployment could undermine social stability. By contrast, conservative commentators contend that technological displacement will not cause structural technological unemployment, and that disruptions will most likely follow the same patterns of “creative destruction” (Schumpeter) observed throughout the history of capitalism. Finally, radical commentators typically regard the continuation of automation as an opportunity to think of new ways to organize society beyond wage labor, and endeavor to develop a political program designed to transcend the current problems plaguing capitalism.

The final sections critically analyzes all three ideological positions and shows how, ultimately, current arguments and debates are structurally flawed. The tool of ideology critique is used to explain how the mainstream debate between conservatives, liberals, and radicals is devoid of systematic critical understanding of the dynamics of modern society. Relying on the works of the critical Marxian school of value-critique, a critique of current debates is formulated to explain how the historical dynamics of capital continuously transform labor in modern society in ways that will likely subvert the expectations of all three ideologies. The critical concept of a “logic of capital” must be central to any understanding of the processes of automation and technological displacement.

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