A brief look inside the research group

The time has now come to take a look at the the research group Sociology of Work and Organisation. Among other things, we will hear about the group's workshops, concerned with topics such as ’The sociology of accounting’ and ‘Good, forgotten theories of organisation’.

By Nanna Mia Jørgensen

In order to become better acquainted with the Work and Organisation group, CESAU have sat down with group coordinator Christian Olaf Christiansen, post.doc and lecturer at the Institute for Culture and Society - History of Ideas.

CESAU: What was your latest group meeting about?

Christian: We planned our latest group meeting based on the philosophy that it would be interesting if we each presented our work and the theories we work with on a daily basis. Since we come from several different fields, we have a variety of approaches to this area of research. So we used the meeting for a sort of knowledge exchange.

Furthermore, we focused on revisiting some of the good and possibly forgotten theories, because there is a tendency that many good theories are forgotten.

Subsequently it turned out, out of the blue, that various people from the group independently grabbed hold of me and suggested that we have something empirical to tie together the meeting and the various theories. Not surprisingly, many pointed to the academic process of development of Aarhus University as an empirical case. As a consequence, this case became the hub of the workshop in September.

Four different speakers each presented their own organisational theory in relation to AU's academic process of development. I think it was established that, by taking on several different theoretical vantage points, one can say something interesting, different, and perhaps sligthly surprising in accordance with each theory.

CESAU: Is there much variation concerning your respective ways of working and presenting topics?

Christian: Our variation of background is seen especially in the ways in which we present something and in the references we draw upon. Most of us are not sociologists, but we come to gether because of a common interest in sociology. Of course we draw upon different practices when doing research. Some, such as myself, proceed at a very broad, general theoretical level, whereas, for instance, the anthropologists work at a level much closer to the practical. It's exciting to see these differences; they contribute to making our workshops very interesting and dynamic.

Accounting – a social technology

CESAU: What will your next meeting, scheduled for October 14, be about?

Christian: The theme is 'the sociology of accounting', and it has its origin in some common ideas within the group. Perhaps it sounds quite dry and dull, but I think it will be interesting.

What we've seen is that accounting may be regarded as a type of social technology, in use in all branches of society - in organisations and in connection with work life. We may not always be very aware of it, but it is there, and it makes a difference how we settle our accounts, so to speak.

I think this is an example of one of the fun things which arise from sociology. Something which is quite close to us, present on all sides, which is often taken for granted unless we put on our sociological spectacles.

Marx, pupil plans, & Iceland

CESAU: What sort of presentations might one expect?

Christian: We will be giving a number of very different presentations which all revolve around accounting. For the workshop on accounting, I will be giving a presentation on how Karl Marx was very interested in these accounts. At one point he writes to Engels, who is part of the industry, asking permission to see certain accounts. Marx believes that with these accounts in hand, he will hold the key to understanding the capitalist mode of production in 19th century England.

In these accounts we see how labour figures as a wage cost etc. This is an example of how, for a very central sociologist and theorist, accounting is assumed to play a very central role for all of modern society. This is an example of what makes the sociology of accounting relevant.

Another presentation will focus on "pupil plans" [individual, interdisciplinary plans for the learning of each pupil in Danish public schools] and how the new pupil plans are interpreted by teachers who deal with them in their work. Pupil plans are a new type of accounting. New social technologies which are brought into play when working with pupils. Pupil plans form part of placing demands on the structure of the school universe, and they are a good example of a technology of accounting at work in that particular context. The school example will be a very empirical and local example of the sociology of accounting.

Another topic which I hope we will have opportunity to learn about, is accounting in Iceland - the great crash they experienced up there. It seems that they were not aware of their approaching the chasm, because this was not visible in the accounts before it was already too late.

An exciting playground

CESAU: How does the group approach the various topics?

Christian: There is quite a bit of variation in the group, which is also apparent in the variety of topics dealt with at our workshops. In that sense, we work quite exploratively in the group for the sociology of work and organisation. This is also simply because the workshop and our time in the research group functions as a sort of playground, with room for new and different sociological topics.

At the same time, sociology of work and organisation as a field is approachable from many different perspectives. There is a wealth of theory in this field, enabling us to apply several different theoretical spectacles to the same empirical phenomenon. Consequently, the field is dynamic and pluralist in its influences.

Our group is not very formal, which is why we primarily work through workshops. Our group meetings are not a type of conferences, but rather a place where we gather around "the round table" for an interesting debate. A few more people show up every time, and of course we hope for even more to join us. And we definitely have room for new people to make exciting contributions and take part in deciding on new themes.

"Accounting may be regarded as a type of social technology, in use in all branches of society - in organisations and in connection with work life.
I think this is an example of one of the fun things which arise from sociology. Something which is quite close to us, present on all sides, which is often taken for granted unless we put on our sociological spectacles."

- Christian O. Christiansen