Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of History and Politics - Faculty of Arts


The focus of this thesis is empowerment in contemporary liberal democratic society. It concerns the potential for empowerment through the developmental consequences of employee participation in consultative management. As such it is an expansion of Carole Pateman's thesis that by democratising the authority structure in the workplace, employees will develop a 'democratic personality' characterised by a sense of political efficacy and competence.

To test Pateman's claims I study the developmental consequences of employee participation in consultative management. From slow beginnings in the 1970s, some Australian enterprises adopted consultative management as part of a new workplace culture towards the end of the 1980s. Two contrasting enterprises at the cutting edge of this development, namely BHP's Port Kembla Steelworks and a small heavy engineering business WGE are chosen for the study. An analysis of the data drawn from a questionnaire survey, non-participant observation and semi-focused interviews indicates the prerequisites for participation extant in both enterprises and suggests support for Pateman's thesis. The developmental consequences of workplace participation are demonstrated in the learning of intersocial skills and enhanced senses of personal and political efficacy. The developmental consequences are more evident for committee delegates, hitherto unused to discretion in the workplace, than for staff representatives and for those participating in both workplace committees and in voluntary associations outside the workplace. Such suggests additional support for Pateman's claims.

But a participatory democracy with its communitarian politics of a substantive concept of the good described by Pateman is at odds with a liberal democratic framework where individual rights and interests are prioritised. Thus it might be expected that the positive developments for worker empowerment might not transcend the workplace boundaries and moreover, might even be negated by the counteracting values of economic rationalism, which characterises the contemporary liberal democratic society, A consideration of such issues cannot simply be inferred from empirical or behavioural studies alone, as at the heart of the problem lies a clash of ontologies. I draw on contemporary theorists Rawls, Skinner, Taylor, Walzer, Gould and Mouffe in order to address these issues and to show how the importance of the individual as a bearer of rights and interests is not necessarily lost when assuming the role of the participant in the public sphere.

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