32 SES 16, Bounded Agency in Workplace Learning – A Comparative View
The paper presents the theoretical framework for the following empirical papers. Special attention is given to the need to reflect on sectoral and societal differences shaping organisational and individual agency in workplace learning. Organisations apply their agency in purposefully shaping work systems, workplaces and thereby more restrictive and more expansive environments for workplace learning. By defining how work is organised into workplaces, they build the base for social stratification (Baron, 1984; Tomaskovic-Devey, 2014). Two markers for workplace learning are applied. Firstly, organisations may strictly separate non-routine from routine operations, thereby lowering skill requirements and lowering learning opportunities for large proportion of workers. In contrast, by refuting separation of responsibilities, larger proportions workers enjoy a richer learning environment (Koike et al., 1990). The organisation of work may apply skill profiles acquired in broad, standardised vocational education programmes, supporting the prevalence of learning conducive workplaces. Alternatively, jobs might be solely shaped by organisational needs, leaving more space for low-skilled, learning poor workplaces (Maurice, Sellier and Silvestre, 1986). Against the backdrop of the cross-country comparative literature, for each sector and country, expectations are stated, whether – on average – work organisation is expected to follow patterns of standardised qualifications (occupational space) or the idiosyncratic needs of the company (organisational space). However, enterprises may differ from the norm, either individually, or as part of particular set of organisations. Later are studied as particular organisational fields (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983; Wooten and Hoffman, 2017), forming rather independent areas of institutional life. For understanding the role of individual bounded agency in workplace learning, the framework proposed by (Evans, 2007; Evans, 2017) is merged with concepts from adult development psychology, in particular the concept of ‘life structure’ introduced by Daniel Levinson (Hefler, 2013; Levinson, 1980). Two rounds of four interviews with management and early career workers had been implemented for shedding light on organisational and individual bounded agency. The approach allows to study different individual answers given organisational environment hold constant. Interviews has been complemented by four days of on-site observations during initiated small learning projects. The latter has allowed for studying organisational and individual reactions to new learning opportunities, which constitutes methodological innovation of the project.
Tomaskovic-Devey, Donald (2014). The Relational Generation of Workplace Inequalities. Social Currents, Vol. 1, No 1, pp. 51-73
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