ILR Press

Alex Wood on Flexible Scheduling and Managerial Power

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The ASA Virtual Engagement Event is happening and ahead of the event, we asked author Alex Wood some questions about his book, Despotism on Demand: How Power Operates in the Flexible Workplace, and his research on the impact of flexible scheduling on managerial power and the workplace.

What’s your favorite anecdote from your research for this book?

My favorite anecdotes are related to the ways workers resisted everyday despotism. These hidden strategies shifted power relations in the workplace despite being completely invisible to managers. For example, one worker sanctioned their manager by rotating all the store’s milk so those going off first were at the back of the refrigerator. This caused the loss of over £500 of milk and the manager got into trouble with his superiors but was completely at a loss as to who the culprit was. People are inherently ingenious and will always find creative ways to fight injustice.  

What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book, that you know now?

Originally I was interested in the relationship between job insecurity and control, it was only through talking to informants that they explained they weren’t worried about losing their job but feared their hours being arbitrarily cut or changed. If I’d known the importance of flexible working time for control from the outset I could have asked more questions about it. But the fact that what I found was different from what I was expecting gives me confidence that I’m not simply imposing my own views onto the data. The opportunity to gain experiential knowledge is the real benefit of ethnography.

How do you wish you could change the field of Sociology?

Exploitation, the degradation of work and class were once the bread and butter of sociology. Strangely these issues are now fairly marginal despite levels of inequality not seen for a hundred years, declining living standards, recurrent crisis (first the financial crash and Great Recession, now the coronavirus crash and likely second Great Depression, not to mention an impending ecological crash). The public, media, and policymakers are crying out for answers to questions such as how to transition to green sustainable jobs and what rapid changes in technology mean for the future of work. I wish sociology was answering them.

Alex J. Wood is Lecturer in the Sociology of Work at the University of Birmingham and a Research Associate at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. Follow him on Twitter @tom_swing.

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