Engineers and work in global design networks of the semiconductor industry
- The dissertation focuses on the semiconductor industry to analyze the current state of the international division of labor and its impact on the engineering labor process. Three extensive case studies on design centers of semiconductor companies located in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) are used to bridge two major gaps in the current academic debate. While the discussion on the development of the international division of labor in manufacturing has already moved towards a more sophisticated perspective that acknowledges a multi-centric structure of international division of labor, on the level of engineering work the hierarchic dichotomy of center and periphery still prevails. Analyzing both location and upgrading processes as well as the labor process the study is able to challenge this perspective. With the focus on CEE the dissertation re-focuses the analysis on a region hitherto not very prominent in research on the international division of labor and the electronics industry. The semiconductor industry with its decade long history of internationalization of both production and product development allows the analysis to focus on local upgrading and control in the labor process that are already stabilized and not anymore distorted by adjustment dynamics of initial phases of internationalization. The study is organized in two major parts representing its two levels of perspective - industry and work. First, the industry perspective with the development of global networks of production and development is used to analyze the industry organization and geographic scope of the developing international division of labor. The Global Production Network approach with its upgrading perspective is combined with research on locational decisions of R&D operations, innovation dynamics and work categories to sketch the shifts in the electronics and semiconductor industry. The study is able to show how a network based industry organization is developing, that is however increasingly driving processes of vertical integration through triangular restructuring. Based on data from field research in CEE in three extensive case studies the focus is put on the upgrading process of chip design centers in global networks of production and development. Using work categories to assess both local upgrading as well as location within global design networks the study is able to show how peripheral operation are able to develop into relatively central design centers. The most important result of the study is its account on processes of integration, through which locally integrated product development teams emerge that comprise of almost all necessary functions for product development. With this the often perpetuated idea of an increasingly modularized and internationalized engineering work is challenged. Simultaneously, a new phase in the process of internationalization is described that is characterized by increased localization, while the integration into and reliance on global networks is growing. Second, the study analyzes the engineering labor process within global networks of production and design of the electronics industry. The Labor Process Theory (especially Friedman's approach) is used to analyze the control in the engineering labor process in chip design centers in CEE. Its main argument is that the labor process in peripheral product design locations in CEE has developed considerably with regards to levels of autonomy in work tasks organization and control structure. The labor process in these formerly peripheral design centers has developed towards a project organization where managerial strategies tend towards responsible autonomy. However, a layered structure of control strategies is used by management, where forms of direct control often undergird strategies of responsible autonomy. The ability to develop an efficient labor process organization is dependent on the ability to reduce the international interface contacts towards the beginning and the end of development projects. This is directly linked to the process of local integration, or functional upgrading, through which the technical and managerial capabilities that are necessary for such a work organization are developed locally. This is the point where the international division of labor and the labor process organization need to be developed in unison through company strategy. However, local worker struggle, mostly through resistance by individual engineers, has also decisive effects on the development of the labor process. Additionally, local factors such as the labor market are central to the analysis advancing a more dialectical perspective on the relations between global and local levels of internationalization. The analysis shows how integrated forms of international division of labor are increasingly developing.