Grønning, T. (1997)
'Accessing Large Corporations: Research Ethics and Gatekeeper-Relations
in the Case of Researching a Japanese-Invested Factory'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 4, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/2/4/9.html>
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Received: 2/9/97 Accepted: 18/12/97 Published: 22/12/97
Whether or not they grant entry to the setting, gatekeepers will generally, and understandably, be concerned as to the picture of the organization or community that the ethnographer will paint, and they will have practical interests in seeing themselves and their colleagues presented in a favorable light. At least, they will wish to safeguard what they perceive as their legitimate interests. Gatekeepers may therefore attempt to exercise some degree of surveillance and control, either by blocking off certain lines of inquiry, or by shepherding the fieldworker in one direction or the other. (Hammersley and Atkinson, 1995: p. 66)
From time to time during the course of your employment, you may be entrusted with some confidential Company information. This type of information may involve our production schedule, model change information, or even research and development activity. As you are aware, the automotive industry is extremely competitive and the release of confidential information may affect our ability to compete and your very job security. Therefore, we ask that you maintain confidential information within the gates of our plant. If you are not sure if something is confidential, or if you receive a request for information from outside the Company, please check with your Group Leader/Supervisor before releasing any information. (TMM, 1988: p. 96)
As far as interviewing our team members, that has created some problems. We've had some comments from some of our employees who've called up. ... A lot of them have called their supervisors, and their supervisors called me saying: 'Is this OK?' I said we have formally not approved this, but I said, 'It's a free country,' and it's up to them whether they want to help. I would respectfully request that you do not call them. At least don't tell them that we've approved it from public affairs. But I would respectfully request that you don't make interviews of our employees, because they always call me and say: 'What is this all about? Who's doing these surveys?' It causes me a great deal of trouble. It makes me reluctant, frankly, to give you information that has our employees' names in it. ... I encourage you, if you do call employees, to be very clear about the way you are doing the survey. Some of them have come to me and said they think the UAW is calling. For your information, they misunderstand.
2 On Adler's methodology the source is P.S. Adler, personal communication, autumn 1996.
3 The proliferation of, and possible reasons for, this practice of concealing the firm's identity in the case of research by Japanese researchers in Japan is being discussed in Tsuji (1994).
4 The research was planned and conducted in conjunction with Katsuji Tsuji, Ritsumeikan University and then guest researcher at the University of Kentucky, with the assistance of Robynn Pease, then graduate student at the University of Kentucky. Acknowledgements to both in connection with the project in general, and acknowledgements to the former for commenting upon an earlier version of this paper. I also want to express my sincere gratitude to managers and workers interviewed at TMM for taking the time to do so. Managers have also been helpful in supplying company documentation. The portions of the paper which may be interpreted as somewhat critical towards certain aspects of TMM public relations practices are meant as constructive criticism. Preliminary results of our research have been published as Grønning (1994), which is a paper analysing the training system, and as Grønning and Tsuji (1997), which is a comparison of team organisation at TMM and Ford Motor's factory for light trucks in Kentucky. Further information on the Toyota Motor Corporation and TMM is available through the Internet, see Toyota Motor Corporation and the separate server containing information on activities in the U.S.A., Toyota U.S.A..
5 The project was in principle privately funded since it had no funding in the form of grants, except for a paid sabbatical for one of the researchers. In addition to the expenses for staying in the area the project also involved inter-continental travel to U.S.A. for two persons.
6 It should be noted that this is the only example with such a general wording. The three other examples concerning conflict of interests are all of an explicitly economical nature, i.e. 'acceptance of outside employment', 'financial interests in a firm that does business with TMM', and 'acceptance of gifts from any firm doing or seeking to do business with TMM' (TMM, 1988, p. 25).
7 Elsewhere in the handbook there is an item called 'Media Relations Policy': 'Establishing a trusting, beneficial relationship between TMM and the news media requires that all information be handled and distributed in the same manner. Individual team members may be contacted by the news media and asked for information or to respond about the Company's position on public issues. Team members should refer all requests from the news media to the TMM Public Affairs Section. In addition, team members may not release information to the news media about Company activities or the activities of other TMM or TMC team members. The TMM Public Affairs Section has established systems and procedures for responding to news media requests and for obtaining management approval for public statements. If an activity merits or requires public disclosure, its release will be handled by Public Affairs Section' (TMM, 1988, p. 58).
8 We were obviously aware of this method also in connection with this particular research, but were hindered from applying it because we lacked sufficient name and address information before arrival. A good idea in the case of such a letter would be to include a photocopy of the letter which is being sent to the public affairs section.
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