chapter  2
25 Pages

The hunting of the snark: A critical analysis of human resource management discourses in relation to managing labour in smaller organisations


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As outlined in chapter 1, Edwards (2001) argues that there is a continually adapting but fundamentally consistent basis for analysing industrial relations (IR) in work organisations, whatever the sector or context. He suggests that while managerial labels may change and employment environments can be differentiated, a core of critical analytical concepts endures, amongst which we find the notions of conflict, uncertainty and

tension. Central to this understanding of IR is the pursuit of interests by groups of employees and managers, and the structured antagonism that results. In this chapter, it is argued that we can better understand this dynamic through analysis of the enactment of labour management practices in the context of human resource management (HRM); that is, the accomplishment of people management through recruitment, appraisal and training, within the particular ‘way of ordering’ (Townley, 1993) that HRM provides. Following Townley, particular attention is paid to the actions of managing labour within the HRM framework. This approach is taken to throw light on the management of indeterminacy in work contracts through changing definitions of formality (Ram et al., 2001; see also chapter 1). In particular, the analysis examines the interstices of organising people management, where managers and employees must negotiate an order that both can work with. ‘All activities that affect the provision or utilisation of human resources within the business unit’ (Arthur and Hendry, 1990: 233) are open to analysis; however, the symbolism and legitimacy associated with HRM are crucial to understanding people management (Ferris et al., 1999). This chapter develops an analysis that integrates the practical working reality with less visible aspects of the discourse. This approach contrasts with the more common focus on either the individual or organisation in analysing HRM, wherein priority is given to assessing goal achievement and efficiency (Wright and Boswell, 2002). The chapter is informed empirically by a qualitative study of people management practices in four smaller organisations.2