Gender, Power and Post-Bureaucracy : Work Ideals in IT Consulting

University dissertation from Uppsala : Sociologiska institutionen

Abstract: This thesis deals with work environments defined as post-bureaucratic, and which are characterised by individualisation and a decrease in the employer's formal control. The study shows how the employees in such work contexts are both empowered and disciplined. The main questions concern to what extent power shifts in relations between the employer and the employees and between female and male employees are visible and how such potential power shifts manifest themselves. The primary analysis of this power shift focuses on post-bureaucratic work ideals. Work ideals prescribe the skills, competence, manner and qualities of the ideal worker. While bureaucratic work ideals have emphasised employees' rule-following and role adaptation, reflecting the employer's supervision and control over employees, the post-bureaucratic work ideal has been suggested to a shift in power and control that challenges the bureaucratic relationship between power and position. The study uses a narrative analysis to highlight post-bureaucratic work ideals through examining in depth how Swedish IT consultants constitute, and position themselves in relation to, the ideal IT consultant. Although the consultants present themselves as powerful and autonomous vis-à-vis their managers, they also appear highly controlled by the system of consulting, by customer relations and by a work environment restricted by economic, individualised rationality. They also portray themselves as powerless in relation to threats of being made unemployed. Notwithstanding the supposed feminisation of a post-bureaucratic work ideal characterised by social competence, this study also shows that the work ideal that is rewarded in post-bureaucracy is not a feminine ideal. Although alleged to be gender-neutral, it is concluded that the idealised character of IT consulting is a gendered construction that gives precedence to hegemonic masculinity, and subordinates traditional feminine qualities, thereby reproducing gendred power relations.

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