Wednesday, October 06, 2004

orr questions

1. Orr emphasizes the importance of studying work practices, because the picture of work that emerges from these studies is frequently much different than the one revealed by studying the employment relationship or identity construction through one's work. The ethnographic approach, as evidenced by this book, uncovers much, but what does ethnography miss and what are its limitations? What important aspects of work, if any, cannot be adequately addressed by the ethnographic approach?

2. While reading, I kept contrasting Talking About Machines with an article by Elfreda Chatman about alientation theory and information behaviors of janitors. It is the most depressing article ever written, while Orr's is, at times, almost celebratory. The research methods are different and so are the research aims, so the fact that I kept putting the two works together struck me as odd.

There were some obvious similarities - both groups of workers had few prospects for advancement within their organization, both lacked a constant 'space' in which work took place, and both were separated, both physically and ideologically, from management. However, while the janitors did not have an active social and information sharing network with their co-workers, the technicians obviously did. The janitors overwhelmingly lived in an alientated social world. The technicians, as a result of this network, did not seem to. They did sometimes express frustration and the sense that their concerns were not being heard by management, but they didn't seem exactly alienated.

So, finally coming to the question: is the social and information-sharing network among co-workers enough to eradicate alientation? Mask it? Or is it possible that Orr did not include this because it was not part of a work practice?

3. Throughout my experiences in different work environments, people always seem to be attributing human characteristics to the machines they work with daily (i.e. 'The copy machine hates me,' 'My computer died,' or my personal favorite, watching a co-worker 'pet' and whisper encouragements to a printer in an attempt to coax it into printing). The technicians don't do this, and thankfully, don't seem to have this kind of relationship with their machines. How could we characterize the relationship between technician and machine, and how is it different from the relationship between technician and customer?

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