Surveillance, resistance, observance: Exploring the teleo-affective volatility of workplace interaction

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Journal Article
Organization Studies, 2006, 27 (8), pp. 1111 - 1130
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Central to the critical study of contemporary management practice has been an understanding of the possibilities for worker subjugation framed in terms of the disciplinary practices of surveillance and responses to it in terms of compliance and resistance. In this paper, we explore how the volatility of everyday interaction also leads to a different response - one we call 'observance'. We introduce this term to refer to the process of identity diversification at work, and to create an analytical-conceptual space that is not fully circumscribed by compliance and resistance. To give the concept of observance empirical flesh, we present an account of team meetings held as part of a quality improvement programme in a manufacturing workplace in Sydney, Australia. We use this account to show how the interpersonal dynamics among team workers led to 'emergent' subject positions and conducts. Capturing the effects of the volatility of everyday workplace interaction, the concept of observance is shown to account for such emergent positioning and reflexivity. Observance enables us to highlight this and also how people exceed the parameters of surveillance, compliance and resistance, especially in relation to participativecommunicative or 'immaterial' forms of work. Copyright © 2006 SAGE Publication.
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