Builders : the social organisation of a construction site
This thesis is based on an ethnographic case study of a London building site. The social organisation of building work and building workers was framed by the city, and cross-cut by class, race and gender, the structures and processes of which are explored throughout. The fieldwork site was characterised by racial divides between subcontracted trade groups, which were organised around informal networks within ethnic communities. Those communities, in their turn, were bounded by patterns of gift-exchange, reciprocity and ensuing loyalties. Networked contacts, which were predominately ascribed by social, ethnic and regional origins, formed an aspect of the perpetuation of race and class structures. Strong notions of trust and loyalty fostered illegitimate activities because information concerning rule-breaking was kept within the communities and went undetected by agencies representing the formal law. Informal networks were also contrived and engineered by entrepreneurial subcontractors whose relationships with building contractors and consultants were characterised by gift-giving. This process shielded competition from rivals and closed down the competitiveness of the construction market. 'Embedded' economic relations excluded recent migrant groups and their subcontracted representatives by blocking access to jobs and contracts, despite the groups' ability to offer cheaper and harder-working labour. Contractual arrangements were informal and sometimes illicit, and this erected barriers to legal and regulatory power. Coupled with short-term and ephemeral working practices, a social order partly supported by the threat of violence was established. The masculinity expressed by builders was, in part, a consequence of this display of violence. The building industry was virtually a 'non-modern ' organisation whose social relations were marked by network morality, nepotism, reciprocity, gift relations and the threat of violence. Yet, violence underpinned forms of social power, which manufactured the imbalance of false reciprocities.