Embeddedness and workplace relations : a case study of a British-based Japanese manufacturing company
This thesis presents an analysis of workplace relations in a British-based, Japanese manufacturing company. The extent and nature of managerial hegemony within Japanese transplants, and the ability of workers to pursue informal means of 'counter-control', are both highly contested issues within the 'Japanisation' debate. It is these two related issues that are addressed here. The research is based primarily on a nine-week period of participant observation as a shopfloor worker. This was supplemented by interviews and 'shadowing' of key personnel in the case study company. In addition, interviews were held with staff in buyer and supplier firms trading with the case company. This thesis devises a framework based on embeddedness (Granovetter, 1985) to analyse the research data. Using the constructs of networks and social relations which constitute embeddedness, four network structures and three categories of social relations are applied to workplace relations in the case study company. It is argued that the embedded ness framework provides a way of resolving concerns not addressed satisfactorily by other academic studies of the labour process in Japanese transplants. As this framework has not previously been applied to the labour process debate it represents a novel contribution to academic debate. A number of key conclusions emerge. First, workers have retained the capacity to engage in resistance in at least some high-surveillance organisations. This illustrates the significance of setting control and surveillance systems in the organisation's social and economic context. Second, a 'holistic' approach is required in order to understand the complexity of the labour process and to establish why workplace relations take their specific form in particular contexts. Third, in analysing Japanese transplants, the policies of the companies and actions of management need to be explored with awareness of their potential shortcomings and tensions, rather than solely from a perspective of coherence and effectiveness.