Annalisa Murgia | Gendered Ways of Knowledge Working? Stories of Gender Hegemony and Resistance in Temporary Jobs

Abstract

Recent studies on the transformations of contemporary work have shown the emergence of new forms of work and social organization in advanced capitalist countries, in an economy increasingly based on intangible activities, advanced services, and the exchange of information and knowledge. A particularly relevant aspect of these changes is related to gender subtexts of work and organizations, both with respect to the working contexts, and to their representations. Although the dynamics of gender discrimination have been widely explored in the analysis of women and men’s professional careers, the spread of temporary and precarious jobs has emphasized some interesting aspects, sometimes even in a paradoxical way.
For such a reason, in this contribution I focus on the construction process of gender identities of highly qualified workers with short-term contracts through social and discursive practices. More specifically, I am concerned with understanding whether the changes of the “standard” working model – which sees a male full-time employee as the main character – are also linked to changes of dominant gender models in the labour world.
The aim of my contribution is to answer this question and to understand the practices of resistance enacted by women and men, inside and outside the organizations they work in.
To this end, I will present the results of a research I conducted in the province of Trento (an area of north-east Italy) between January 2007 and March 2008. More precisely, my reflection is based on an analysis of forty narrative interviews, carried out with women and men within the public administration. The choice to observe this organizational context is mainly due to the wide use of fixed term contracts in the sphere of highly qualified knowledge work, and to the high over-representation of women in these kind of contracts.
By using a narrative perspective (Poggio, 2004; Riessman, 2008), I analyze different kinds of gender positioning in identity construction and in discursive practices (Davies and Harre, 1990; Butler, 1995), with the twofold purpose of elucidating both the individual experience, and the narrative practices of a specific culture (Gherardi, 1995; Riessman, 2001). Focusing on personal stories can also highlight the interruption of the dominant “masculine” story, that has for a long time characterized both the male breadwinner model in work studies, and the separation among different spheres of life. In this sense, my attention has not only been focused on how the dominant gender models are constructed through narratives of temporary workers, but especially on how these models are brought into question and on practices of resistance that people perform, both to traditional models of work, and to dominant gender models.

References

  • Butler, J. (1995) “Collected and fractured: Responses to Identities”, in K. A. Appiah, H. L. Gates (eds.) Identies, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Davies, B., Harré, R. (1990) “Positioning: The Discursive Production of Selves”, Journal of the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(1): 43-63.
  • Gherardi, S. (1995) Gender, Symbolism and Organizational Cultures, London: Sage.
  • Poggio, B. (2004) Mi racconti una storia? Il metodo narrativo nelle scienze sociali, Roma: Carocci.
  • Riessman, C. K. (2001) “Analysis of personal narratives”, in J.F. Gubrium, J.A. Holstein (eds.) Handbook of Interviewing, Newbury Park: Sage.
  • Riessman, C.K. (2008) Narrative Methods for the Human Sciences, Sage, Thousand Oaks