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Session 63: Four Methods in Search of Understanding Labour Markets Ethnographic approaches Pauline Leonard.

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1 Session 63: Four Methods in Search of Understanding Labour Markets Ethnographic approaches Pauline Leonard

2 What is Ethnography? A broad-based set of methods with a legacy from social and cultural anthropology : ‘graphy’=writing and ‘ethno’=culture/races (Vidich and Lyman 1994) The aim is ‘to produce an understanding of “natives” or inhabitants of a particular culture’ (Prasad 2005: 76) ‘the study of people in their own “natural” setting, with a focus on capturing and re-presenting the subjects’ own understanding of their world’ (Alexander 2006:400) Usually involves intensive fieldwork and high levels of researcher involvement with participants in context

3 Ethnographic methods A range of methods are employed ‘in the field’ to develop close connections with subjects and contexts in order to gain in-depth, detailed qualitative data about their everyday lives. These include: participant observation non-participant observation unstructured and semi-structured interviews mobile methods (‘walking and talking’) visual methodologies analysis of artefacts and texts produced by research participants field notes

4 Participant observation : Erving Goffman “It’s [a technique] of getting data by subjecting yourself, your own body and your own personality, and your own social situation, to the set of contingencies that play upon a set of individuals, so that you can physically and ecologically penetrate their circle of response to their social situation, or their work situation, or their ethnic situation, or whatever...I feel that the way this is done is not, of course just to listen to what they talk about, but to pick up on their minor grunts and groans as they respond to their situation” (1989:125)

5 The dual process of ethnography: A dual process of both fieldwork and writing (Clifford and Marcus 1986) The politics of doing fieldwork and the poetics of writing (Clifford and Marcus 1986) Historically troubled by ‘an interesting tension between its subjective tendencies and its quest for legitimacy as an objective and disinterested science’ (Prasad 2005: 78) More contemporary approaches acknowledge subjectivity and situate the researcher: accept analysis and writing of data as a productive and creative process and make no claims about objectivity, reliability or validity. Methodologically part of the interpretive traditions, and current developments include making connections with critical, poststructural and postcolonial disciplines

6 Ethnographic Turns in Labour Market Research Early research of the labour market dominated by ethnographic case study approach until 1960s (e.g. F W Taylor, Hawthorne studies 1930s, shop floor ethnographies 1950s, white collar occupations 1960s on) Early ethnographers explored power, politics, informal relations and resistance 1960s on : rise of quantative methods to study the labour market 1990s on: resurgence of ethnography in the study of labour market issues - ability to provide deeper understanding, creative insights, multiple perspectives and examination of processes and relations. Multiplicity of contexts and workers studied: industrial, post-industrial, intellectual, manual, service and sex- based; blue, pink and white collar

7 Contributions of ethnography to understanding labour markets Seeks to counterbalance macro-level approaches by enquiring how labour market processes and changes are experienced and activated at the micro- level of local workplaces and individual people. A grounded approach: looks at the experiences, attitudes, ideas and practices of different workers e.g managers, employees, unemployed, voluntary and unpaid workers, different occupational sectors, unskilled/skilled/professional, migrants etc Asks how these experiences and working lives may be differentiated by nationality, region, gender, race, class, age, educational attainment and skill level, child and other care responsibilities etc The ‘human story’ behind the figures

8 Contributions of ethnography to understanding labour markets Wide-ranging studies including: Unemployment Migration Labour market restructuring and organisational change Segmented labour markets ‘Flexible’ work; hiring and firing Occupational sectors e.g shop floor, accountancy, sexwork, call centres Labour market relations Housework or voluntary work Home-working and tele-work Diversity Parenting, work-life balance

9 Challenges of the ethnographic approach in labour market research Ethnography attempts to make the normal ‘strange’ and is about the everyday experience of workers and/or an organization, the everyday things that people get up to in the course of their everyday working lives. It helps to reveal complexities within labour markets: e.g. how routine jobs are complex, and how complex jobs are routine, as well as how power, control and inequalities may be sustained (Smith 2001). However it can be very challenging. It can be difficult: to arrive at a cultural understanding of a familiar context to get close: the ‘being there’ quality (Bate 1997) to gain access to some organisations, the elites within them and organisational records e.g. on health and safety, sexual harassment etc to resist interference over the conduct and presentation of an ethnography not to become personally/emotionally involved and to manage boundaries to put in the time necessary to produce depth and understanding To produce ‘thick description’ (Geertz 1973) we need to attend to multiple and frequently contradictory levels of local meanings in the field. Detailed observations not enough: we need to wade through multiple and complex layers of local interpretations.

10 ‘Complementary to’ and/or ‘competing with’ ? Complementary : an important supplement to quantative data, enabling an understanding of the complexities within categories, the blurring of boundaries, the ambivalence and affect behind the facts and figures. Enables us to ‘see’ in a new way thereby producing new research questions. Enables exploration of theoretical conceptualisations and debates Continually developing a new palette of methods e.g film Bonecrusher (2009) 0 –2.10 Compete with other methods: a challenge to positivism. Postpositivists approach questions of social reality and knowledge production itself from a more problematised vantage point, emphasising their constructed nature and acknowledging the researcher’s own epistemology and subjectivity ‘Either/or’ or ‘both/and’?

11 Example 1: Gretchen Purser (2006) : ‘Flexibilization’ of employment ‘On-demand staffing’ / ‘labour pools’/ ‘just in time’ disposable workers Day Labour Agencies: leading employers for parolees, ex-convicts, former welfare recipients, homeless, immigrants, unemployed, ‘simultaneously mopping up and wringing out “the reserve army of labour’ (p3) Key to understanding the income- generating strategies and labour market attachment of the urban poor Temporary help industry-one of the fastest growing sectors of US economy- temp jobs =25% of all new jobs since 1984; 2.9m a day Participant observation (15 months -2 days p.w.): took on role of a day labourer signing on each morning between 5.30 and 6.00 a.m.; waiting for work; when chosen going out on a job

12 Waiting for work “This kind of embedded and embodied fieldwork enabled me to gain a depth of understanding-on the corporate practices, the nature of the work, the embodied subjectivity of the workers and the all-pervasive sense of uncertainty-that I would not have been able to acquire through interviews alone. Becoming an active participant in this world and subjecting myself to its temporal, physical, and psychological demands was a fruitful method for forging trusting and meaningful relationships with other job seekers” (p5)

13 ‘Flexploitation’-little time is paid Workers arrive at 5.30 onwards but no rational basis to who got what: a game of chance determined by those with power Corrupt system operating through favouritism: e.g. dispatchers asked workers to fetch coffee and doughnuts, take out the rubbish, run errands A large pool of potential workers needed on site in order to provide labour ‘on demand’: many wait around all day unpaid- not technically ‘employed’ until at a work site Boundary between employed and unemployed is blurred ‘flexploitation’ (Bourdieu 1998)

14 Stress and conflict Use of quotes and writing bring the context, and the emotions within it, alive: “I told you I had a car” Maurice yelled from across the room.”I couldn’t tell” Caroline replied “your Y looks like an N. That ain’t my fault” “why d’you give that job to that other guy? You know I’ve been sitting here since 5 a.m. and I told you I had a car. I’m gonna report you.” [more authoritative] “Give me the name of your manager”. Caroline scoffed, stating “Go ahead and report me! It ain’t gonna do nothin’. I’ll tell you one thing, you ain’t going nowhere with that kind of attitude” For white collar workers, ‘long hours culture’ and time ‘at work’ measured. For the poor and marginalised much of their time ‘at work’ is spent waiting and unpaid: and unmeasured by quantative methods?

15 Example 2: Pauline Leonard (2010) ‘Professional’ / ‘elite’ migration Professional migrants in Hong Kong- white British ‘expatriates’. ‘hanging around’: non- participant observation in a range of different organisations and work settings 30 unstructured biographical interviews and visual methods

16 Working whiteness Stories of lives reveal the role and importance of race and nationality in elite migration Ethnographic research methods reveal how this is taken on by individuals through speech, embodied performance, and spatial practice Whiteness brings enhanced social and career mobility Work and organisational routines, practices and relations are structured through race and racial difference: e.g meetings, worktasks, careers, workspace A sheltered and nurtured existence as compared to harsh exploitation of unskilled migrants

17 Expat life: all time is paid “It was fantastic! Everybody is in the same boat-just arrived in Hong Kong, all got young kids, with parties every Friday and Saturday night, it was fantastic! Great social life, great sports and then you had leave to go sailing, play badminton or squash, it was ridiculous. It was just like a holiday camp! You didn’t have a very serious job, everybody around you was just working part time really. It’s a great waste of talent and money. They were paying good salaries and people went just potty for six months: if you can’t beat them, join them and you can see people all around sort of slacking off!” Jim, architect

18 References Alexander C (2006) ‘Introduction: Mapping the Issues’ Ethnic and Racial Studies Vol 29, No 3 May Bate S.P. (1997) ‘Whatever happened to organizational anthropology? A review of the field of organizational ethnography and anthropological studies’ Human Relations Geertz C (1973) The interpretation of cultures New York: Basic Books Goffman E. (1989) ‘On Fieldwork’ Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 18 (2) pp Prasad P. (2005) Crafting Qualitative Research: Working in the Postpositivist Tradition New York, NY: M E Sharpe Purser G. (2006) ‘Waiting for work: An Ethnography of a Day Labour Agency’ ISSC Fellows Working Papers, UC Berkeley Van Maanen J.(1979) ‘The Fact of Fiction in Organizational Ethnography’ Administrative Science Quarterly 24(4) Vidich A.J. and Lyman S.M. (1994) ‘Qualitative methods: Their history in sociology and anthropology’ in N.K. Denzin and Y.Lincoln (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Methods Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage pp 23-59


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