In search of well-being in the workplace: Exploring the emancipatory potential of participatory action research
Twiname, L. J. (2005). In search of well-being in the workplace: Exploring the emancipatory potential of participatory action research (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13209
Permanent Research Commons link: https://hdl.handle.net/10289/13209
The co-optation of employee empowerment discourses by organisations seeking to maximise performance have been argued to contribute to the intensification of control rather than enhancing real employee participation in employment decisions. I challenge the inevitability of such co-option and set out to achieve genuine participation and empowerment. Through a participatory action research (PAR) programme in a medium-sized, internationally-owned manufacturing firm located in New Zealand, employees and I sought to transform aspects of their workplace lives that they believed would enhance their well-being. The participants and I generated PAR processes that attempted to reflect a Habermasian notion of communicative action. In communicative action Habermas calls for commitment to trustworthy engagement in the achievement of a just society by striving towards ideal speech acts. An uncritical approach to these purportedly empowering processes might contribute to the exacerbation of exploitative processes, the value of participant 'doubt' in analytic processes is consequently discussed. I assess PAR' s potential to assist participants to identify and address management attempts to control through instrumental action and its ability to assist participants to engage in emancipatory actions toward communicative action. In keeping with the emancipatory aspirations of critical theorists, I committed to an 'affirmative agenda' through which we sought to transform the firm's processes toward more employee inclusiveness in decision making. This transformation required a challenge to the embedded and obfuscating discourses of unitarism that deflect attention from the unequal power relations endemic in contemporary capitalism and the strengthening of processes that respect and reconcile fairly the pluralist interests that are the focus of critical theory. The various projects in the programme were intended as a forum through which different groups within the firm might transform the hegemonic forces acting upon them in order to contribute more equally to decisions that influenced their lives. Through the projects we were able to achieve some specific changes participants believed would improve their workplace well-being. The research process proved to be a useful method of enquiry and change. The processes we experienced did shine light on hegemony for some of the participants and for myself. We did not, however, arrive at the level of mutual trust, sincerity and legitimacy that I had hoped for. Habermas speaks of movement towards the ideal. In this thesis I offer hope for such movement towards workplace practices that enhance employee well-being and through which the wealth creation potential of enterprise may serve all humanity well.
The University of Waikato
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