‘Going with the technology’
The final generation of hot-metal compositors
in Hot metal
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This chapter looks to the experience of compositors (those workers who set the type) who lost their traditional printing trade when computer typesetting technologies were introduced. The transition away from hot-metal typesetting is not a deterministic story of technological inevitability. It is part of a broader economic and political shift; the move away from a protectionist manufacturing economies, into neoliberal service economies geared towards international markets. What happened to the workers who were pulled along with this transition? And how important was the material and embodied nature of traditional typesetting in this loss of a trade? For these compositors, the introduction of computers resulted in a profound loss of control, and the only way to regain that control did not appear to be in the collective security of unions, nor in the skills built up from a life of work in printing. In the 1980s, former hot-metal compositors used individual initiative; they no longer found security in the old collective practices, craft traditions and camaraderie that had once characterised their workplace. This emerging social and economic regime profoundly changed these compositors’ identities, as well as their attitudes to technology, skill and collectivity.

Hot metal

Material culture and tangible labour

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