Year

2001

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Department of Management

Abstract

"No One Up There is Listening to Me"

This dissertation addresses the importance and value of attending to the voices of workers in an industrial setting.

The multi-dimensional self-perceptions of workers at a Refractories plant-who are not usually heard in practice or in the literature-provide insights into their world that are not commonly available to those outside the business. The workers' perceptions of modes of managing, including what they saw as contributing to the silencing of their voices, provide an interpretation and awareness of their working environment beyond their immediate tasks. The intention of this study is to present their perspectives, not merely as an explanation of their working lives, but as a way of having their insights, perceptions and feelings recognised and valued as part of knowing how to manage. Through having these insights attended to and acknowledged as worthwhile, the workers are given credit as contributors to the understanding of what happens in organisations.

The diverse accounts they share create a postmodern mosaic of life at the Refractories. The stories emerge from fieldwork that took place over a two-and-a-half year time span, almost one year of which involved the sale of the plant. Throughout this span of time, even with the rapid changes that were taking place because of the sale, and the pressures on the workers because of the downturn in the steel market-and hence refractory needs-their views on appropriate ways of managing did not alter substantially. Their considerations were largely based around relationships, identity, their sense of what it meant to communicate with workers, and the emotional aspects of managing.

The dissertation is presented as a trialogue of three separate voices: the workers', mine, as the author, and the literature. The challenge in structuring this dissertation has been how to prioritise the normally silenced voices of workers within the traditional academic rigours of thesis writing, while constantly referring to their position to lead the discussion.

The issues they raised have been investigated through a series of processes. These included: observations; interviews and return of transcripts; participant feedback sessions; textual analysis of interviews; facilitation of workshops; casual conversations; and my participation in a variety of events at the plant. The multiple-method approach to the study allowed concepts and theories to emerge in a constructivist, grounded-theory fashion. A multidisciplinary approach has also been taken, spanning the literature on organisational management; sociology; and across a broader range of scholarly disciplines, including: feminist research; social psychology; philosophical thought; research methodology; anthropology; narrative studies; education, learning and communication studies.

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