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SoCoRob - The social construction of human-robot co-work by means of prototype work settings


Project leader: Prof. Dr. Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer, Dr. Martin Meister

Doctoral researcher: M.A. Kevin Wiggert, M.A. Tim Clausnitzer

The project is a subproject of the DFG-priority program 2267: "Digitalisierung der Arbeitswelten" (01.10.2020-30.09.2023).

Our project on Researchgate.

Project description

Collaborative robots change the relationship between human labour and technology in three ways:

1. the adaptation of robotic movements (speed, application of force, collision avoidance) to human behavioural capabilities enables direct physical interaction. On this basis, collaborative robots can be used in work situations that were previously closed to them.

2. collaborative robots can be used in a wide variety of work situations with significantly less effort. It is also becoming increasingly possible to use them in normal everyday environments.

3. collaborative robots benefit from the advances in artificial intelligence, especially with regard to initiative in interaction and the ability to act in less pre-structured situations.


The goal in our project is to explore the social construction of collaborative robots as co-workers of employees. That is, we ask which work-related roles and which forms of distribution of work tasks between human and robotic workers will emerge in the course of the (further) development and deployment of collaborative robots.

We examine the two most frequently mentioned fields of application for cobots: industrial manufacturing and care. In the field of industrial manufacturing, the dominant discourse on the use of cobots focuses on enabling greater flexibility of manufacturing robots (e.g. through the possibility of easier reprogramming for different tasks, the possibility of use in SMEs). In contrast to industrial manufacturing, robots in care are basically new. In this field, the dominant discourse on the use of cobots focuses on relieving caregivers of physically strenuous and repetitive work in order to create more space for genuine sentimental work (Strauss 1982).


We assume that the versions of the redistribution of work between humans and robots presented in the two dominant discourses on cobots are far too simple and over-stylised. In order to arrive at a more differentiated and empirically appropriate picture of this redistribution, we use the social theoretical concept of action "distributed" between human actors and technical artefacts.

We therefore distinguish between three different manifestations of collaborative work settings, all of which we interpret as prototypically realised scenarios:
(1) Development of cobots as robotic prototypes whose use is investigated in experimental settings within laboratories.
(2) Test operation of more mature prototypes tested in controlled real-world environments.
(3) Implementation of a collaborative robot for actual use in real-world applications of collaborative work.


Schulz Schaeffer, I., Meister, M., Wiggert, K., & Clausnitzer , T. (2020): The social construction of human robot co-work by means of prototype work settings. TU Berlin, Department of Sociology of Technology and Innovation, Working-Paper: TUTS-WP-2-2020.

Talks and Presentations

„Scenarios of distributed agency in human robot collaborations in industry and care“ (Wiggert, Kevin/Clausnitzer, Tim), Workshop 2020 of the STS-Technology-Section of the German Association for Social Science Research on Japan (VSJF), 21. November 2020, Online, Berlin/Tokyo.

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