Subjectivity and reflexivity in an 'exemplary' virtual team
This thesis discusses the findings of a 'virtual' ethnography of a 'virtual team' of teleworkers called 'FlexiTeam'. The concept of teleworking refers to workers who use Information and Communication Technologies to work flexibly in time and space. A 'virtual team' is a group of teleworkers organised into a 'team'. There are three substantive findings of this research. First, the discourses of virtual teamwork as 'effortless' and 'flexible' are subject to critique through a description of the forms of labour and (self-)discipline enacted on the part of FlexiTeam members in order to implement 'best practice'. Second, the analysis examines how team members' commitment to this 'best practice' can be understood in relation to their identity at work. This is explored using a theory of subjectivity as constructed through social relationships at work. The analysis focuses on FlexiTeam's social relationship with clients, their employing organisation and within the team. The client relationship is highlighted in particular because FlexiTeam are interesting in their role as 'teleworking consultants'. FlexiTeam not only practice but also sell the concepts of teleworking and virtual teams. Unlike existing studies of 'top-down' change imposed by management upon the workforce, FlexiTeam are active in the production of the very same discourse they also consume. It is argued that this production/consumption relationship constructs a reflexive dynamic for team members' subjectivity, as they strive to be 'experts', 'exemplars' and 'embodiments' of the 'best practice' discourse they sell. However, the third finding suggests that, for some team members, their relationship to the 'best practice' consultancy discourse is characterised less by 'internalisation' and more by ambiguity, ambivalence and instrumentality. This exposes the limits to the 'normalising' power of discourse, even in the case of a team who produce the discourse in question, thereby helping to develop a more sophisticated theory of the subjectivity/discourse relationship.