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Dignity at Work

Randy Hodson
Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
0521778123 (pb)


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Professional Work: A Sociological Approach

Kevin Leicht and Mary L. Fennell
Blackwell Publishers: Oxford
0631207252 (pb); 0631207244 (hb)
15.99 (pb); 50.00 (hb)
xvi + 254

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Front Cover
Front Cover
The sociology of organizations, and in particular of the workplace, will benefit greatly from Randy Hodson's innovative and imaginative study, Dignity at Work. Sociological studies of the workplace came into their own in the post-war period, when researchers were able to get back to work, stimulated by the findings of the Hawthorne Studies (Roethlisberger and Dickson, 1939) and the theoretical reflections of Elton Mayo. While some researchers followed in the Hawthorne footsteps (Zaleznik et al. (1958) for example), for many the stimulus was to do things differently. A wealth of ethnographic data was generated, both in America and in Britain, and for the most part with a firmer sociological foundation than Mayo's nave eclecticism. The trend continued in the following decades, so that Hodson in the 1990's had a wealth of material to work with when he decided to carry out this systematic study of the experiential realities of work. The focus on the human need for dignity is an interesting shift from earlier overviews such as Rose (1975, 1988) Burawoy (1979), Edwards (1979), Braverman (1974), or Ritzer (1993) which survey, from a variety of viewpoints, the bureaucratic demand for control, resistance to it, and the societal consequences.

From the hundreds of studies since 1950, Hodson narrowed his sample down to 84 book-length ethnographic accounts of work, of one or more work groups in one organization, based on at least six months observation. This generated 108 cases. He recasts the familiar control/resistance dialectic in terms of a defence of dignity: working with dignity is achieved through resistance, citizenship, and the construction of autonomous meaning systems. Informal groups can be an important foundation of dignity, but also a source of assaults on dignity.

Hodson has investigated these four themes by establishing a coding frame for the ethnographies in his quasi-sample, developing scales for many aspects of them, thereby achieving a wealth of valuable comparisons. These range from the details of work control and resistance, to types of organization, to cross cultural comparisons between Britain (31 cases) and the United States (57 cases), with reference in the text to half a dozen other societies. In the concluding section of the book Hodson completes his methodological range with the presentation of path analyses to show the factors related to satisfaction, creativity and meaning in work.

Dignity at Work is a masterly study and adds an important new dimension to the existing body of work in this field. One might query the use of 'dignity' as the key concept, for 'dignity' is not a sociological concept, nor do the folk talk of dignity. Dignity is something experienced, and one might hesitate in attributing it to observed behaviour. Interestingly, when trying to justify the use of the term, Hodson relies on the subjective report of an academic's self-concept when in a concentration camp (Frankl, 1963). But on the other hand, it gets away from the earlier concepts of self-realization and self-actualization to be found in the more psychologically oriented studies of Maslow (1970), Herzberg (1966) and Argyris (1957), and from the radical philosophies of alienation and anomie. It has an immediate appeal, and Hodson does want to appeal; for a reform of management practice, which, while avoiding what he calls 'workerist', does not fall into the same mould as the 'managerialist' work of Likert (1961) and McGregor (1960). If his rational and temperate call for reform is heeded, it is to hoped that it isn't put through that mill of management thought that produced the mangled version of Human Relations that Nichols and Beynon (1977) found in place as the 'New Working Arrangement' at Chemco (which, readers should note, produced fertilizer, not food!)

By contrast, students of the sociology of the professions will gain little nourishment from Professional Work. Leicht and Fennell aim to show that professionals and managers are 'changing places', by which they mean that in the context of the 'neoentrepreneurial' workplace, managerial work has acquired some of the context and characteristics of professional work, and vice versa. Now the notion of the professional manager first appeared in Berle and Means in 1932, and while these writers are mentioned in passing, James Burnham, who developed the idea in The Managerial Revolution (1941), does not appear in the chapter on managerial work in the twentieth century, nor indeed elsewhere in the book. But consideration of historical development of organizational roles plays little part in this study, which sees the appearance of the neoentrepeneurial, post-organizational workplace as the occasion for the emergence of the 'managerial project' as a phenomenon parallel to the professional project. It is here that their lack of scholarship becomes painfully apparent. They attribute the coinage of this term to Abbott (1988), whereas in fact it was adumbrated by Freidson (1970) and articulated by Larson (1977) over a decade earlier. Abbott, while working along quite similar lines to Larson, is in fact rather dismissive of the idea, and it is in the hands of British authors such as Witz (1992) and Macdonald (1995) that this concept has been further developed. Leicht and. Fennell's summary of the professional project is boiled down to three 'activities' (p. 46). They contrive to omit a number of fundamental features, and it is only by this means that the authors are able to sustain their thesis at all: in consequence it is fundamentally flawed. In order to achieve the degree of control that leads society to regard an occupation as a profession, there must be a field of knowledge that can provide the basis for the provision of a service. Its practitioners must be able to define that knowledge and practice, and who is eligible to become a member of their occupational organization: this in turn must negotiate with the state to acquire a monopoly of practice for licentiates. At no point do managers fit this pattern. It should also be noted that if there are places where the argument stands up, they are in relation to America: the authors' occasional references to 'advanced industrial societies' only highlights the fact they know little outside their own (admittedly very extensive) backyard.

It is to be hoped that someone has apologized to their most frequently cited author, Eliot Freidson, for misspelling his name throughout.

Keith Macdonald
University of Surrey


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