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The Material Life of an Office

Pellegram, Andrea Ann; (1997) The Material Life of an Office. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This ethnographic account of a London office seeks to make three contributions to the anthropological debate on organisations, bureaucracy and work. First, it takes an as yet untried methodological approach to the study of this field setting by relying on in-depth observation of material culture. Broad classes of office objects are considered in order to reveal unspoken norms, strategies and ritualised responses of the workers concerning their condition. The first ethnographic chapter considers communication mechanisms, contrasting formal decisions against informal gossip to provide a framework for the later discussion of material culture. The discussion then moves to consider the manipulation of objects and pseudo-objects such as paper, dress, space, furnishings and time. Second, this study provides much greater detail on an aspect of office work that has been raised only briefly in the anthropological literature to date, namely the tension between the individual worker as a bureaucrat as opposed to the individual as an idiosyncratic being. This duality is explained through an examination of contrasting roles and identities that the workers adopt in situationally relevant contexts. Finally, it is a study of power, hierarchy and strategy, making the explicit assumption that whilst power and the ability to control the actions of others normally begins with those holding formal positions at the pinnacle of the bureaucratic hierarchy, influence and manipulations also come from the lowest placed and least powerful workers.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: The Material Life of an Office
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Social sciences; Culture of an office setting; London
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10102545
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