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Title: Managing under private ownership : an ethnography of managerial work in private enterprises in China
Author: Shen, Xuehong
ISNI:       0000 0004 2740 7599
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2013
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Since the inception of economic reform, China has undergone comprehensive changes which have stimulated substantial research on various aspects of Chinese society. In recent years, research on management and organisation in China has grown rapidly, but with relatively little attention being devoted to the ethnographic analysis of private enterprises, despite the fact that such enterprises play a crucial role in China’s economy and make a significant contribution to labour employment. A lack of close, personal and meaningful access to everyday organisational activities is often cited as one of the main reasons preventing such research. This thesis attempts to fill the gap through investigating the everyday nature of management and managerial work in seven large private shipbuilding enterprises in China. In so doing it seeks to provide ethnographic answers to one main question – what are the characteristic features of the emerging management systems employed in private enterprises in contemporary China? In so doing the research investigates how such systems have evolved and the ways in which they impact on the nature of everyday managerial work.Research that seeks to understand the reality of management and managerial work however is not research that deals exclusively with static or structural organisational phenomena. Instead it is also research that requires sensitivity to changing events and processes – ones that interact constantly with elements of a complex and dynamic environment. It is argued here that such research demands a theoretical framework capable not only of appreciating the diversity of formal management systems in contemporary China, but which can also incorporate informal social and cultural factors into its analysis. To establish sensitivity both to structural and cultural phenomena the research approach developed here is one that combines two, very different, sociological theories - labour process theory (LPT, derived from Braverman, 1974) and Chaxugeju theory (derived from Fei, 1947). On the one hand, LPT offers a framework for appreciating structural forces stimulating changes to management systems and managerial work. On the other hand, Chaxugeju theory facilitates appreciation of how cultural, historical and social factors are synthesized in rules and principles that characterise the operation of society and the values and logics that guide human action, Taken together, the combination of LPT and Chaxugeju facilitates the analytical connection of micro and macro forms of analysis, and thus the appreciation of a range of interacting systems (economic, ideological, social etc.) of relevance to understanding the nature of management and work organization in contemporary China.Given the nature and form of both the research questions and theoretical framework, a research design based on ethnography is chosen as the primary methodological approach. As the research not only studies the systems of management in China’s private enterprises, but also managerial experiences, behaviour and subjectivity in relation to changing circumstances, an ethnographic approach that commits extensive time to the field, interacts extensively with actors, generates rich data, and detailed and ‘thick’ description of the observed works well for this research. As to the case study organisations, shipbuilding companies were chosen for three main reasons: (i) the importance of shipbuilding industry to the Chinese economy, (ii) the rapid growth and significance of private enterprises in the industry, and (iii) (at a more personal level) the extensive connections and previous work experience of the researcher in the shipbuilding sector. At a general level, the findings reported in the thesis reflect that the evolution of management systems in China’s private enterprises is the product of the interaction of a range of internal factors specific to the firm and many external forces related to China’s transitional economy. As such, issues of cultural, social and historical inheritance are assessed together with those of economic interaction/processes of globalisation to document how these forces influence events at the organisational level. On the one hand, the research describes trends towards convergence with the status and nature of ‘global’ managerial work, despite a Chinese firm’s specific ownership origins, current ownership status, and (re)structuring strategies. In so doing the data demonstrate how managerial work in China’s private enterprises is experiencing fundamental changes; for example, the on-set of greater job scope, knowledge/skill levels, organizational control, responsibilities, incentive mechanisms, and relationship-based managerial ethics. On the other hand, the findings also suggest that within China’s transitional economy, private firms still incorporate aspects of traditional Chinese management. Such methods are often reminiscent of erstwhile state-owned practices and can function as a strategy for minimizing internal resistance to change. Findings suggest that the current ‘hybrid’ character of management in private enterprises in China will endure for a considerable period of time. China’s traditional management and its values still have a strong influence on firm practices, especially in terms of people management. In many respects the social character of the workplace functions in the spirit of Chaxugeju, with the fundamental organisational rules and behavioural patterns remaining largely unchanged, as individual-based social relationships substitute for formal institutions in the firm. These findings are all explained through detailed ethnographic description and analysis. Finally, perhaps the major contribution of the research which underpins this thesis is to reduce the gap between the perception and reality of management and managerial work in China’s private firms. Insights into the daily working lives of managers are provided which reveal the deep philosophies underlying apparently rationalized practices and behaviours. Research on such intimate management phenomena is of benefit to organizational research in that it supplements the more ‘global’ style of analysis common in appreciations of Chinese corporate behaviour. The study thus adds a deeper, qualitative level of analysis to the mainstream managerial research landscape on China. Theoretically it shows the practicability and value of combining an indigenous Chinese theory (Chaxugeju) with an established western paradigm (LPT) to analyze and interpret ethnographic organisational phenomena. It thus reminds us of the importance of looking beyond the boundary of specific academic theories when developing and applying our ideas, especially when exploring international and transitional economies.
Supervisor: Hassard, John; Mccann, Leo Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: China ; management ; managerial work ; private enterprise ; organisational change ; ownership