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Beyond the blank slate: identities and interests at work

Marks, A. and Thompson, P. (2010) Beyond the blank slate: identities and interests at work. In: Working Life: Renewing Labour Process Analysis. Critical Perspectives on Work and Employment . Palgrave McMillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, pp. 316-338. ISBN 978-0-230-22223-6

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Abstract

Identity has become the focal point of interest across the social sciences and with reference to a range of issues and fields of study (Cornelissen, Haslam and Balmer 2007). Papers on identity have long been a feature of the International Labour Process Conference (ILPC) and the 2009 event had its largest stream on that topic. What is the point of interest and connection for labour process analysis (LPA)? Historically, it has been focused on the so-called ‘missing subject’ debate. This is a well-trodden territory that we do not want to repeat in any detail here (though see chapter by Jaros in this volume). Suffice to say, the central issue has been how to fill the hole originally left by Braverman’s objectivism – his self-limiting choice to omit consideration of worker action and attitudes in relation to what he regarded as the long run tendency to work degradation. In one sense, this is a wholly misleading frame for debate in that few ever agreed with Braverman’s position, for the simple reason that the ‘subjective factor’ is part of the objective picture. All subsequent research in a labour process tradition has, therefore, examined and theorised worker agency in one way or another. For mainstream LPA, the subjective factor is addressed through consideration of issues of resistance (and more recently misbehaviour), creativity (such as the significance of tacit skills and knowledge to labour and capital) and consent (notably the games and discretionary practices that help to tie workers to the workplace order). In broad terms, such emphases are consistent with the Marxian tradition of writings on the self-activity of labour (without the teleological belief in the historical mission of the working class) and literatures of industrial sociology that focused on informal self-organisation of workers.