Decoding Embedded Gendering in Mobile Working--A Case Study.

AuthorJoseph, Jerome


Acker's (1990:142) concern underlying her conceptualisation of deeply embedded gendering of work processes is that social and organizational processes are depicted as "gender neutral". Studies suggest that instead they perpetuate deeply embedded gendered constructions of power and processes (Mastracci & Arreola, 2016; Padavic et al., 2020; Ozkazanc & Clark, 2018) on account of hegemonic masculinity (Hearn, 2019) and its dominance (Kelan, 2017:178) in the "everyday practicalities of gender interactions" (Jagger, 2008). Attempts at "(un)doing gender approaches at work" (Kelan, 2017: 174) with ferreting out of the manifestations of gender remaining a formidable task.

It is in grappling with this "ferreting out" problem that Merton's (1938: 672-82) conceptualization of culture, which posits that in every context, there is an identifiable primary cultural frame of reference of "dominant expectations" and "allow able means" which underlies thinking and action, is useful. For instance, the primary cultural frame of reference in the Indian context can be hypothesized to be founded "on the basis of women's identification with childbearing and domestic life" (Acker, 1990:152). And the primary cultural frame of reference in profit-oriented organizations is to maximize utilization of every resource towards the dominant expectation of profit maximization.

Seen through Merton's (1968: 212) dominant expectations-allowable means frame of reference, socialization processes inculcate "the construction of divisions along gender" (Acker, 1990 : 146) around the concept of "hegemonic masculinity" (Connell, 1995) which marginalizes women in social and organizational structures and processes. Studies suggest that when hegemonic masculinity is the "dominant expectations-allowable means" frame, economic exploitation (Goger, 2013), social and managerial suppression (Mezzadri, 2016), denial of political and worker rights of women (Cornwall & Rivas, 2015) are some of the consequences given the interplay between deeply embedded patriarchal hegemonic masculinity and the pervasive profit maximizing interests (Ayaz et al.,2019: 898).

The embedded nexus between patriarchy and profit-making interests according to Acker (1990:154) revolves around the centrality of the "abstract job" based managerial policies and practices. Acker further depicts the "worker" holding the "abstract job" as a universal "man" and "the real worker is the male worker" (1990: 149). Organizations implement the "abstract job" by recruiting workers with the expectation that the worker should exist "only for the work" (Ackers, 1990:149) and "cannot have other imperatives that cannot be included within the definition of the job" (Acker, 1990 : 149). Any "worker-occupant" of a given "abstract j ob" has to align with the "dominant expectations-allowable means" frame of reference of both the embedded constructions of hegemonic masculinity marginalizing women as well as the organizational-managerial interests of profit maximization with the understanding that "too many obligations outside the boundaries of the j ob would make a worker unsuited for the position ..." (Acker, 1990 : 149). And who, therefore, is "unsuited" in this conceptual line of thinking? The Acker answer is unequivocal --"the woman worker assumed to have legitimate obligations other than those required by the job, did not fit with the abstract job" (Acker, 1990:149). They are even "devalued because women are assumed to be unable to conform to the demands of the abstract job' (Acker, 1990 : 152).

Thus the concepts of "abstract job", "the real worker", the notion that the most suited "abstract job-real worker" is a universal "man", translates to mean that any "worker-occupant" in an "abstract job" is one who can demonstrate total commitment to the assigned roles and responsibilities and will not engage in any other "off-work" activity.

Concretely in the "real world" of organizational imperatives, both the expectations of hegemonic masculinity as well as the dictates of profit maximizing management come together in the execution of the "abstract job" in and through a "body" which occupies the "abstract job." Reading between the lines, implementation of the abstract job can only be achieved if the "body" which occupies the "abstract j ob" has what can be termed as an "uninterrupted work capability." The key idea which fulfills the expectations of hegemonic masculinity and managerial utilization of the "body" occupying the "abstract job" is in the operative word "uninterrupted".

Acker's theorizing is in the abstract domain, the positing of "a job" is an abstract category, separate from the worker, is an essential move in creating jobs as mechanisms of compulsion and control over work processes ... Use of such abstract systems continually reproduces the underlying gender assumptions and the subordinated or excluded place of women (Acker, 1990 : 154) But abstract theorizing is an idea; and the idea to become "real" has to be grounded in the organizational praxis of profit making. The delivery of the idea of the "abstract job" is through the concept of "uninterrupted work" which meets not only the expectations of hegemonic masculinity and also of exploitative profit- making imperatives.

The concept of "uninterrupted work capability" of every "abstract job-worker occupant" is the key operative idea decoded from the Acker conceptualization of the "abstract job." This concept straddles both gendered and exploitative structures and interests because it is not only an articulation of hegemonic masculinity but is also a representation of work intensification which constitutes exploitative managerialism.

The concept of "uninterrupted work capability" emerges as the key construct underlying Acker's conceptualization of gendered work which not only determines "goals, purposes and interests" but also "defines, regulates and controls" the socially legitimized and allowable means to ensure adherence to the expectations of hegemonic masculinity as well as exploitative managerialism in the pursuit of profit maximization. The concept of "uninterrupted work capability" is the primary frame of reference which produces as well as reproduces both gendered discriminatory embeddedness as well as exploitative managerial perspectives, policies and practices.

The centrality of "uninterrupted work capability" in gendered processes and exploitative managerialism does not mean that agency is not exercised by the "worker-occupant" of "abstract jobs." Structuration theory posits that "the constitution of agents and structures are not two independently given sets of phenomena, a dualism, but represent a duality" (Giddens, 1984: 25) which is both "constraining and enabling." The primacy of "uninterrupted work capability" in the structure-agency duality throws up a diversity of agentic responses. In order to examine this duality of structure and agency, here again Merton's fivefold "dominant expectations-allowable means" framework can be adapted to conceptualize the...

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