Developmental Work Research in the Health Care Sector (completed)

About the project

The immersion of “high-tech” artefacts into working life calls for revisiting workplace learning. New work activities, professions, and occupations have emerged since high-tech artefacts changed workplaces and the work process as a whole. In the health care sector, we observe that new specialists are employed to run and control e.g. health information technologies (HIT) and medical technologies (MT). Here, information and communication technologies often implicate a "mediatisation" of work objects and work processes so that employees increasingly act "at a distance" to the physical body, the treatments or the physical tools they use. A new kind of knowledge and an "epistemic culture" needs to be developed to understand representations work objects and work processes and to understand how they can be modelled and reconfigured (cf. Knorr Cetina 1999). At the same time, the advantage of deploying such technologies - especially the safety of new treatments and procedures - does not solely depend on these specialists but on swift and adept collaboration between various professional groups as well. Linked to this, the challenge arises to modernise organisational structures and work routines to foster collaboration and problem-solving beyond the boundaries of hierarchies and between different, often highly gendered, professional groups.

This development leads me to a crucial research question concerning workplace learning and gender relations which can be studied in the health care sector in an exemplary way: On the one hand, this sphere of action still sustains a more or less steady division of labour between men and women rooted in, or connected to, traditional roles especially concerning roles of female and male occupations, thus, reproducing the vertical and horizontal occupational segregation of men and women, while on the other hand, cooperation needs expansion from vertical (‘top-down’) to horizontal (more equitable and democratic) forms. Connected to this, tasks and procedures detach from clearly outlined workplaces and work routines. Several competences and responsibilities in relation to technologies shift, for example, from the physician as the highest authority to specialised or lower job positions. Accordingly, I expect the traditional division of labour and the consequential hierarchies in hospitals to be contested and opened out into a process of transformation. The research project aims at comprehending the historical changes of a new scientification of work with a special focus on workplace learning and the gender-technology-nexus in the health-care-sector. An international comparison between the German and the Norwegian health-care-sector is envisaged.


The impact of microelectronic innovations such as automation technologies and ICT on gender relations and qualifications have been studied chiefly with respect to industrialised and typically computerized workplaces, scarcely in relation to health care. Tendencies of a “scientification of work” were formerly discussed in the sense of rationalising organisational structures based on the transformation of working procedures by Frederic Taylor’s scientific management, thus, the term evoked very different and even contrary associations compared to what is at stake today. In contradistinction to Taylorism, today’s scientification cannot be understood in terms of mechanising working procedures and subordinating human agency to routines and standards only; today, science is both, the source of technological innovations and the subject matter of work activities (Langemeyer, I., 2011: Socio-technological changes of learning conditions. In: N. Seel (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning.). A cognate concept is therefore the "epistemification of work" (Stutt, A., & Motta, E., 1998: Knowledge modelling: An organic technology for the knowledge age. In: M. Eisenstadt & T. Vincent (Eds.), The knowledge web. Learning and collaborating on the net).The overall objective of the project consists in a more general understanding of this "Epistemification" or "Scientification of work" and its impact on work relations, work cultures and learning processes as an integral part of scientificated work.


Cooperations with: Akademie für Kardiotechnik, German Heart Institut, Berlin

Timeframe: 2011-2011

Methodical foundation: Developmental Work Research, activity theory, cultural-historical research, videografic interaction analysis


On a theoretical basis, the project provides innovations to activity theory and developmental work research in combination with feminist techno-science.These innovations are made in view of the outlined empirical research field, which means that the theoretical work conduces to developing and adjusting research methods for the research project at hand. Activities of learning are to be analysed as situated in specific social contexts and as embedded and sustained by work relationships – comprising: doing gender, modes of participation and cooperation and aspects of personal situatedness  (Langemeyer, I., 2005: Contradictions in expansive learning - towards a critical analysis of self-dependent forms of learning in relation to the contemporary socio-technological change. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, Vol. 7 (1) Similar to the French approach to activity theory, I use videografic methods to stimulate developmental work research.



Tags: Workplace learning, simulation, videografic research methods, scientification of work, health informatics, user-driven innovation, automation and work, competence development, ICT
Published Mar. 23, 2011 8:59 PM - Last modified June 17, 2013 1:02 PM


Project leader Ines Langemeyer