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J_Richards_paper_112

J_Richards_paper_112

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05/09/2014

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Page 1 of 33
UNMEDIATED WORKPLACE IMAGES FROM THE
INTERNET: AN INVESTIGATION OF WORK BLOGGING
Paper presented at:
25th International Labour Process Conference
Universitiet van Amsterdam
2-4 April 2007-03-31
Presented by:
James Richards
School of Management & Languages
Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh
EH14 4AS
Telephone: +44 (0)131 451 3043
Email: J.Richards@hw.ac.uk
Abstract

The paper addresses the deficit in our understandings of the growing phenomenon of work blogging. Work blogging is investigated in the context of developing Internet communication technologies, almost blanket use of the Internet by the youngest cohort of workers, and changing Internet application. The approach involves content analysis of postings taken from a sample of 744 work-related blogs and qualitative questionnaire data from 204 work bloggers. The findings support the many views taken of work blogging put forward by media reporters and the scatterings of blog-related research currently available. The findings also explore self-reports of work bloggers, which conflict to an extent with how work-related blogs are viewed by other interested parties. The paper dwells on the future of work with a call for wider research to investigate whether rapidly developing and easy to apply Internet communication technologies can augment human powers of organization and integration.

Page 2 of 33
Introduction

Despite there being numerous media reports of people discussing what happens in their workplace in the form of a blog (shorted from Weblog), little else seems to have been done to research this emerging Web-based phenomenon. Where such blogs and their owners have been discussed in the media they have been on the following lines. The most common way in which the media has reported on people who blog about their work is to suggest work blogging is some sort of nuisance to businesses (Spencer, 2005). Indeed, several employees have lost their jobs by writing about management or colleagues, or whatever else they said, did or thought about while at work that day. Some portray blogs as Websites that give unpleasantly honest reviews of life inside corporate houses (Chynoweth, 2005). Put differently, \u2018spilling the beans\u2019 and providing frontline news from the modern workplace (McClellan, 2004). However, in more recent times, there seems to have been a re-evaluation of the initial media line taken on certain work-related blogs, particular of blogs written by front-line public sector employees. For instance, a recent article in The Guardian (January 4 2007) suggests certain blogs, such as The Policeman\u2019s Blog and Random Acts of Reality (written by a London Ambulance Service technician), are beginning to shape public attitudes about public services because of their capacity to bypass and undermine official sources of information and authority (Butler, 2007).

At first appearance it would be all too easy to associate this phenomenon with what Ackroyd and Thompson (1999) call organizational misbehaviour, or even whistleblowing (Miethe, 1999). While media reports indicate that blogs are to an extent about employee misbehaviour and whistleblowing, it would be inappropriate to give a new phenomenon an established label without further investigations. However, there has been very little research conducted on work-related blogs. In contrast to abundant media reports, the research is sparse by comparison, yet where it has been conducted, offers a far more balanced and impartial view of the practice of blogging about work. For instance, Hoel and Hollins (2006) believe employees who are allowed by their employer to blog about work on work time could represent a further means by which organizations can harness the tacit knowledge of workers. Gely and Bierman (2006), however, suggest people who blog about their work can potentially play a part in ameliorating the increasing social isolation of American workers. A further working paper that considers a handful of work bloggers by Schoneboom (2006) implies that blogs can be a forum for resistance in that workers use their blog as a buffer against the company\u2019s attempt to secure their hearts and minds. Therefore, work blogging seems to be more than first anticipated; yet little has been done to address the general deficit in our understanding of a widely acknowledged phenomenon. What

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is more, the current research does not seem to connect the growing phenomenon of work
blogging with matters of much a wider significance.
The interests of labour and an evolving Internet

It would probably be inappropriate to deliberate the relevance of workers blogging about their work without considering some wider technological and social changes that coincide with this recent development. In technological terms, blogs are believed to be associated with the growing influence of \u2018Web 2.0\u2019. There is no strong consensus of what constitutes Web 2.0 technology, but a generic view is that it involves techniques employed by Websites that rely on individual users for content (Biever, 2006). For example, blogs, but Web 2.0 technology also extends to RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, podcasts, wikis, instant messenger, file-sharing, tagging and voice over Internet protocol (for an overview and discussion of these technologies see, e.g. Kolbitsch and Maurer, 2006). The main feature of Web 2.0 technology is that Internet users who have limited computer skills need no longer be the passive recipients of Web-site information (Kolbitsch and Maurer, 2006). As a result, blogs and their like note a paradigmatic change in how users apply the Internet. This is believed to represent quite a different way by which the Internet can be explored by individual or even collectivised workers. It certainly appears to be a means that has been currently overlooked by labour researchers. For instance, recent research that assesses the opportunities for workers in the Internet age has focused on trade union communications with their members and affiliates (Martinez Lucio, 2003; Bjorkman and Huzzard, 2005) and trade union renewal (Diamond and Freeman, 2002). A further emerging body of literature comments on Cyberspace as a medium for misbehaviour or cyberslacking as it is increasingly commonly referred to (e.g. Beard, 2002; Lim, 2002; Mahatanankoon et al, 2004). In reality, there have been few detailed case studies of workers using the Internet in a new and creative fashion to deal with the daily challenges typical of modern day employment (e.g. Carter et al, 2003; Pliskin et al 1997). In short, more research needs to take account of how workers, as individuals or collectives, are exploiting a new range of Internet-based communication technologies.

In social terms, around 20 per cent of American teenagers keep a blog and around 38 per cent read them (Lenhart and Madden, 2005). By far the biggest use for blogs is for sharing self- authored content. Statistics for blog use by British teenagers is not as developed as it is in the USA, but more general research suggests 83 per cent of those in the 16-24 age group regularly access the Internet (compared to 52 per cent for the 55-64 age group) and a significant part of

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