Trist, E. L. and K. W. Bamforth (1951). "Some social and psychological consequences of the longwall method of coal getting." .


Recent improvements to replace the longwall method of coal mining have resulted primarly because of the social shortcomings in the longwall method itself, not the technology. It points to the importance of group relations in using the technology.

Basically the conversion to the longwall method destroyed the social relations. They consider the longwall method to be a technological system expressive of the prevailing outlook of mass-production engineering and as a social structure consisting of the occupational roles that have been institutionalized in its use.

In the earlier "hand-got" method people worked in face-to-face groups to mine coal. Their tasks were multiple, and choice of workmates was critical and often kinship ties made by the men themselves.

"The small group, capable of responsible autonomy, and able to vary its work pace in correspondence with changing conditions, would appear to be the type of social structure ideally adapted to the underground situation. "

However, the self-enclosed charater of these groups makes it difficult for groups of this kind to combine effectively in differentiated structures of a larger social magnitude. Inter-group dynamics preserved small group loyalty.

The new mechanized longwall method brought an entirely different social structure. The new method spread the activities over three shifts, and each shift did different things. People are spread out more spatially and temporally. Occupational roles express the relationship between a production process and the social organization of the group.

The new three shift process is vulnerable from the need to have 100% performance at each shift. It segregated the shifts. Mistakes in one shift carry over to the next. "In an organization of this scale, local disturbances at specific points -- resulting from the interaction of bad conditions and bad work -- resonate through a relatively large social space, becoming magnified for this reason.

As a result management are under strain to keep things moving, and workers feel they are driven by management. It established a norm of low productivity.

The filler group are so isolated individually they are unable to act as a group, which creates a reactive individualism and non-cooperation and mutual scapegoating and high absenteeism.