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'Show Me How it Feels to Work Here': Using Photography to Research Organizational Aesthetics

Warren, S 'Show Me How it Feels to Work Here': Using Photography to Research Organizational Aesthetics Theory and Politics in Organizations, 2. 224 - 245.


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In this paper I discuss the potential role and utility of photographs in exploring the aesthetic dimension of processes of organizing. Beginning with a review of the growing significance within organization and management studies literature of the so-called ‘non-rational’ elements of human-being at work, I question why these issues appear to have become subjects worthy of specific scholarly attention at the turn of the century (Williams 2001). Within this discussion, I recognise the embodied nature of organization and make links between some of the characteristics of contemporary (Western) consumer culture, and aesthetics – with particular emphasis on the context of work and organizations. Following from this, I move to consider how it might be possible to gather data about these phenomena in an organizational setting. The limitations of language as a medium of articulating aesthetic experience due to the sensory nature of these phenomena are examined as a condition which undermines the efficacy of traditional text-based research methods and I argue that these issues necessitate the employment of a more ‘sensually complete’ methodology – introducing the idea of photography as one step towards this end. In order to discuss the epistemological and methodological implications of this approach, I reflect on my experiences during an ethnographic study of the web-site design department of a global IT firm to suggest that photographs taken by the respondents of their work environment helped them to express the largely ineffable aesthetic experiences that resulted from the relationships they had with their physical surroundings. The photographs were used by the respondents in this research as a means of communicating their aesthetic experience during semi-structured interviews where the images served both as an ‘aesthetic lens’ through which to explore my research questions and as foci for discussion and reflection about those questions. Some of these photographs are displayed in this paper, juxtaposed with my narrative accounts to create what Mitchell (1994) has called an image-text. This rests on the assumption that written texts and images have relative merits as modes of dissemination in their own right, with neither taking precedence over the other in terms of authority, or claim to ‘truth’. As part of this discussion I problematize some assumptions about the capacity of images to serve as realist representations, arguing instead that photographic images are partial, selected and subjective interpretations of one reality wholly dependent on the photographers ‘visual culture’ (Pink 2001). In concluding, I briefly mention some of the practical and ethical issues surrounding the use of a camera and the taking of photographs in the research arena.

Item Type: Article
Divisions: Faculty of Business, Economics and Law > Surrey Business School
Depositing User: Mr Adam Field
Date Deposited: 27 May 2010 14:38
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2013 18:31

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