Sunday, October 10, 2004

Orr post

My 1969 American Heritage dictionary defines Ethnography as 1. Descriptive anthropology of technologically primitive societies; 2. Ethnology. Ethnology is defined as "the anthropological study of socio-economic systems and cultural heritage, especially of cultural origins and of factors affecting cultural growth and change, in technologically primitive societies." If we apply this non-PC definition, which clearly identifies some societies as "technologically primitive," to Orr's technicians, can they be said to be "primitive," either technologically or otherwise? Are they primitive today, in 2004, compared to when the research was done in the late 1980s? What is the position of technician jobs in terms of industrial production?

Orr invokes Levi-Strauss's concept of the Bricoleur, a small town French handyman, as a model for the diagnostic smarts displayed by his technicians. Orr calls bricolage "the reflective manipulation of a closed set of resources to accomplish some purpose." Is this a good or useful analogy? And if so, so what?

In the chapter "Warranted and other conclusions," Orr mentions in passing the management threat of "deskilling" jobs, but suggests that the "occupational community" in the case of the technicians possesses sufficient expertise and social cohesion to resist deskilling and the associated loss of control and status. Are they strong enough to resist other threats--discrimination in hiring, layoffs, cuts in pay, cuts in benefits, retraining, drug testing, background checks by Homeland Security?

Extra, based on p. 158, pgh. 2:
Orr argues convincingly for ethnographic study of all types of skilled practice, and seems to have a clear concept of how one may find skilled practice at play in the most "unskilled" or low-status occupations. How does the subjective concept of "productive" work relate to the concept of skill in an occupation, and how does the perception of relative "productivity" determine the status of the worker?

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