Looking through the haze of discontent : smokers as a data source

Price, Robin A. & Townsend, Keith J. (2009) Looking through the haze of discontent : smokers as a data source. In Townsend, Keith J. & Burgess, John (Eds.) Method in the Madness: Research Stories You Won’t Read in Textbooks. Chandos Publishing, Oxford , United Kingdom, pp. 83-94.

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In the case of industrial relations research, particularly that which sets out to examine practices within workplaces, the best way to study this real-life context is to work for the organisation. Studies conducted by researchers working within the organisation comprise some of the (broad) field’s classic research (cf. Roy, 1954; Burawoy, 1979). Participant and non-participant ethnographic research provides an opportunity to investigate workplace behaviour beyond the scope of questionnaires and interviews. However, we suggest that the data collected outside a workplace can be just as important as the data collected inside the organisation’s walls. In recent years the introduction of anti-smoking legislation in Australia has meant that people who smoke cigarettes are no longer allowed to do so inside buildings. Not only are smokers forced outside to engage in their habit, but they have to smoke prescribed distances from doorways, or in some workplaces outside the property line. This chapter considers the importance of cigarette-smoking employees in ethnographic research. Through data collected across three separate research projects, the chapter argues that smokers, as social outcasts in the workplace, can provide a wealth of important research data. We suggest that smokers also appear more likely to provide stories that contradict the ‘management’ or ‘organisational’ position. Thus, within the haze of smoke, researchers can uncover a level of discontent with the ‘corporate line’ presented inside the workplace. There are several aspects to the increased propensity of smokers to provide a contradictory or discontented story. It may be that the researcher is better able to establish a rapport with smokers, as there is a removal of the artificial wall a researcher presents as an outsider. It may also be that a research location physically outside the boundaries of the organisation provides workers with the freedom to express their discontent. The authors offer no definitive answers; rather, this chapter is intended to extend our knowledge of workplace research through highlighting the methodological value in using smokers as research subjects. We present the experience of three separate case studies where interactions with cigarette smokers have provided either important organisational data or alternatively a means of entering what Cunnison (1966) referred to as the ‘gossip circle’. The final section of the chapter draws on the evidence to demonstrate how the community of smokers, as social outcasts, are valuable in investigating workplace issues. For researchers and practitioners, these social outcasts may very well prove to be an important barometer of employee attitudes; attitudes that perhaps cannot be measured through traditional staff surveys.

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ID Code: 27053
Item Type: Book Chapter
Keywords: Research Methods, Industrial Relations, Smokers
ISBN: 978-1-84334-493-3
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > COMMERCE MANAGEMENT TOURISM AND SERVICES (150000) > BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT (150300) > Business and Management not elsewhere classified (150399)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Business Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Current > Schools > School of Management
Deposited On: 27 Aug 2009 01:17
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2015 16:30

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