Consuming Work, Producing Self – Chapter Summaries
This dissertation will describe the how practices of employee control in the corporation reflect both the changing global context and specific, local forces at play in one U.S. high tech corporation. The chapters are organized to some degree around Foucault’s four arenas of power (see pages 7 through 10 of the Introduction), though there are almost always multiple dimensions of power enacted simultaneously.
Chapter 2: Control from the Core describes technologies of power – the bureaucratic framework that is in place to manage the corporation, with a particular focus on global management of the U.S. subsidiary. Global policies and programs seek to reinforce the authority of the parent company. This chapter explores how experiences and perceptions of the global organization vary widely within the diverse populations of the subsidiary. The chapter also explores how and where local understanding diverges from the global.
As computing technology and technical literacy become more prevalent in corporations, computing technologies play an increasing role in the lives of workers. This is especially true in the high tech industry. Does (or how does) the experience vary for employees who are physically or strategically proximate to the core? How are computing technologies used in tandem with other means to elicit the desired behaviors from employees? Chapter 3: Trouble Tickets and Time assesses the way(s) in which employees are constituted as part of the socio-technical systems in which they work, and how they co-construct the technologies of power and production to which they are subject.
Given that corporations are dispersed around the globe and that many working teams are no longer co-located, Chapter 4: The Ant Farm explores the significance of space in relation to corporate values and priorities. What meaning does a headquarters building have in this context, how do understandings of space differ, and why? In general, how does placement in space (relative to the core) or even absence of space have significance? In other words, how is space a technology of power, and what form does the Panopticon take in this new work context?
In order to ensure employee compliance in the attainment of corporate objectives, mechanisms of control must be personalized in such a way that they constitute the worker as subject. Chapter 5 seeks to explain how this transpires in the high tech corporation. What forms of discipline – including technologies of the self – are at work in corporations today, and what discourse frames them? As global markets expand and contract and as mergers and acquisitions alter the competitive landscape, the free market system demands increasing differentiation (Leslie 1995:403). Chapter 5: ‘Outside In’: Personalizing the Market further explores how the corporate discourse evolves in response to these pressures. Internally, do new more totalizing mechanisms emerge as Foucault, Burrell (1988) and others would suggest? Do or how do these new practices build on the old? How do both sign systems and the relationship with external audiences evolve, and what impact does this have on employees?
Chapter 6: Organizing and Re-organizing also explores what happens when theoretical concepts of management theory meet the realities of corporate life. Building on the legacy of Weber and others, management theorists argue for a progression of corporate forms and practices; these are the primary analysts of corporate practices today. But can these theories account for the complexities and human concerns of everyday reality as experienced by employees? Do (or how do) employees make sense of rapidly changing categories in the high tech corporate setting? In exploring these and other questions, Chapter 6 furthers the case for ethnographic approaches in the study of corporations.
In conclusion, Chapter 7: Conclusion evaluates how the ethnography of TechSoft America furthers our understanding of the current practices of high tech corporations, what this means for the lived experiences of employees, and for the future of work in a globally dispersed corporate context. It closes by assessing the larger implications of this research and suggesting areas that warrant further exploration.
You can download my complete dissertation, or use the links below to download just the sections that are of the most interest to you. You can also watch my dissertation defense here.
Table of Contents
02 Control from the Core
03 Trouble Tickets and Time
04 The Ant Farm
05 ‘Outside In’: Personalizing the Market
06 Organizing and Re-organizing
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