Beyond the Boundaries: An Ethnographic Analysis of Spatially Diffuse Control in a Small Firm
Reveley, J., Down, S. and Taylor, S. (2004) ‘Beyond the boundaries: An ethnographic analysis of spatially diffuse control in a small firm’, International Small Business Journal 22(4): 349-367.
25 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2014
Date Written: February 26, 2004
This article presents an ethnographic study of control and resistance in a small professional service firm in the port transport industry. Attention is drawn to the importance of informal interaction between the owner-managers and their employees at a site beyond the organisational boundary, namely the local public house. It is argued that this ‘extra-organisational’ interaction provided the setting for rituals of resistance in which the participants achieved a modicum of role distance. These rituals, in turn, fulfilled a latent ‘tension-release function’ (Goffman, 1990: 241) that served subtly to reinforce and reproduce order in the firm. On the basis of this argument, our article makes a twofold contribution to small firm research. First, the combination of functionalist and interactionist theory in the analysis of micro-socially situated dimensions of control and resistance provides fresh ‘insights into how the complex and contested dynamics of interpersonal relations in small enterprises are handled’ (Ram, 1999b: 15). Second, our analysis suggests ethnographic research has considerable methodological potential to deepen the understanding of small firm employee relations.
Keywords: small firms, ethnography, control, space, employee relations
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