Title: The map is not the territory: the role of knowledge in spatial restructuring processes
Authors: Ramioul, Monique
Issue Date: 26-Oct-2012
Abstract: Organisations structure and restructure their activities and by doing so, they relocate work to other destinations, either to other subsidiaries or to other firms. The first research question of this study is whether work is transformed when it is moved: Do companies simply duplicate the processes at the destination or are the activities restructured along the way? In the restructuring events analysed, work is more divided and tasks tend to be more fragmented. As a result of the relocation, organisations become more complex and activities and workers more interdependent. Processes are more sensitive to disturbances and the need for coordination to solve these disturbances increases accordingly. A second question of the study was whether knowledge plays a role in the relocation of work. It appears that, not surprisingly, short-cycled, standardised and fragmented jobs are more easily shifted geographically. The more complex and interactive, interdependent and unpredictable the tasks, the more difficult their geographical move will be. Nevertheless, such activities are moved too. It does, however, necessitate efforts to secure the adequate transfer of knowledge and the creation of conditions for the generation of new knowledge at the destination. Such efforts were particularly absent in the case of work assessed by management as not being knowledge-intensive. As a result, a lot of work-related knowledge is at risk of getting lost with the relocation. The study combines sociotechnical system and organisational structures theory, the labour process approach and recent insights from global value chain research to understand why in spatial restructuring 'the map often is not the territory'. A qualitative approach with in-depth case studies is applied.
Table of Contents: Acknowledgements 4
General introduction 7
1 | A labour process perspective on spatial restructuring 9
Introduction 9
1.1 Spatial restructuring 9
1.1.1 The growing trend towards offshoring and outsourcing 9
1.1.2 A focus on relocations 10
1.2 Theories to understand inter-organisational relations and the division of
labour 12
1.2.1 Inter-organisational relations 13
1.2.2 The division of labour 19
1.2.3 Observing and understanding changes in the division of labour 25
1.3 Towards a model for analysing the technical division of labour 26
1.3.1 The global value chain and business functions 26
1.3.2 Is the business function concept valuable for our research? 29
1.3.3 The organisational structures approach and the Modern
Sociotechnical Systems Theory 32
1.3.4 Reducing complexity 39
1.3.5 The link to the quality of work and to knowledge 40
1.4 The organisation and the employment relationship 42
1.4.1 Defining organisations 42
1.4.2 Membership and the employment relationship 44
1.4.3 The employment relationship and the labour process approach 52
1.5 Summary 57
2 | Knowledge and the labour process 63
Introduction 63
2.1 Selected theories about knowledge 64
2.1.1 Codification in rationalist economic theory 64
2.1.2 The meaning of uncodified knowledge for work and organisations 66
2.1.3 Knowledge in the labour process approach 69
2.1.4 Summary 72
2.2 The map and the territory 73
2.2.1 Knowledge and employee agency in the labour process 73
2.3 The search for relocation criteria 80
2.3.1 Measuring offshoring and outsourcing 80
2.3.2 Interaction in customer services work 87
2.3.3 Knowledge-intensive work 89
2.3.4 Summary 94
2.4 Summary 96
3 | Method and design 99
Introduction 99
3.1 A qualitative approach, explorations and explanations 101
3.1.1 Conditions for case study research 101
3.1.2 A mixed approach 102
3.2 The WORKS project 104
3.2.1 An iterative research cycle 104
3.2.2 The qualitative research within WORKS 106
3.2.3 Uniformity and quality control in an international research context 110
3.2.4 Implications for the empirical design and some reflections 112
3.3 Selecting spatial restructuring events 114
3.3.1 A theory-driven selection of restructuring projects 114
3.3.2 Sampling 116
3.4 Data analysis 121
3.4.1 Organisation of the data 121
3.4.2 Case study analysis: different steps 121
4 | Spatial restructuring and the technical division of labour 125
Introduction 125
4.1 Relocating business functions 126
4.1.1 A typical business services case: the logistics Business Shared
Services Centre of FOODLOG 126
4.1.2 A similar case from the IT sector: ITHEALTH 131
4.1.3 The effects of a change in the company’s core business:
4.1.4 Summary: intended and unintended changes in the technical
division of labour 133
4.2 Functional differentiation as an intentional design parameter in spatial
restructuring 134
4.2.1 Separating question and answer: CITYLIFE 134
4.2.2 Dividing front-office and back-office: CREDITCARD 140
4.2.3 Summary: contrasting work organisation designs between source
and destination 141
4.3 Mutual interdependencies in IT 141
4.3.1 Remote programming in the IT sector: MESSENGER-DIGIT 142
4.3.2 Dividing data from data management at EASTTOWN-GBA 146
4.3.3 Summary: complex interdependencies and iterative distributed
work 148
4.4 Analysis: different formats of spatial restructuring and their relationship
with the technical division of labour 149
4.4.1 The relationship between spatial restructuring and changes in
the technical division of labour 149
4.4.2 Restructuring: an ongoing process 152
4.5 Detours and disturbances... 153
4.5.1 Loss of overview and detours at FOODLOG 153
4.5.2 Unclear roles in ITHEALTH 154
4.5.3 Broken links at CITYLIFE-MULTICALL 155
4.5.4 Time lags causing confusion at CREDITCARD 156
4.5.5 Moving work back and forth at MESSENGER-DIGIT 157
4.5.6 Analysis: times, places and structures 158
4.6 ... and their regulation 159
4.6.1 A wide range of coordination mechanisms 159
4.6.2 EASTTOWN-GBA: complex coordination structures for complex interdependencies 161
4.6.3 MESSENGER-DIGIT: intensive virtual communication 162
4.7 Impact on job quality 163
4.7.1 Operation-based rather than product-based jobs in FOODLOG 163
4.7.2 Better jobs for the remaining employees at WONDERWEAR 164
4.7.3 Loss of generalist expertise at ITHEALTH 165
4.7.4 Typical call centre jobs at MULTICALL 165
4.7.5 A mixed outcome despite teamwork at CITYLIFE 166
4.7.6 Freed from repetitive work at MESSENGER, moving up the value
chain at DIGIT 167
4.7.7 Mutual learning at EASTTOWN-GBA 168
4.7.8 Analysis: expectations confirmed 169
4.8 Conclusions: spatial restructuring and the organisation 171
4.8.1 Differences in economic governance mode 171
4.8.2 Membership and employment regulation 172
4.8.3 Understanding the technical division of labour 173
4.8.4 Reconsidering the organisation and looking for drivers 174
4.8.5 Strategies of autonomy and control 176
4.8.6 The process approach 177
5 | Knowledge strategies and agency in spatial restructuring 179
Introduction 179
5.1 Knowledge requirements and spatial restructuring 180
5.1.1 Reconsidering the sampling 180
5.1.2 Searching for cut-off points 181
5.1.3 The work organisation 182
5.1.4 Analysis: a dynamic and complex relation 183
5.2 Knowledge management in restructuring processes 183
5.2.1 Discordant knowledge management at FOODLOG 184
5.2.2 On-going codification at CITYLIFE-MULTICALL 186
5.2.3 The other cases: mutual learning and gradual shifts of knowledge 188
5.2.4 Analysis: combining codification and knowledge sharing - but
not for everyone 189
5.3 Uncovering uncodified knowledge and worker agency 190
5.3.1 Lost knowledge and appropriation at FOODLOG 191
5.3.2 The emergence of improvisational work practices at MULTICALL 196
5.3.3 Analysis: collaboration and appropriation 199
5.4 Conclusion: explaining the contradictions 202
6 | Conclusions 205
appendix 1 WORKS qualitative research: guideline for organisational
case studies 211
appendix 2 WORKS organisational case studies: reporting 219
Bibliography 223
Summary 233
Samenvatting 235
Résumé 237
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Research Group Work and Organisation
Centre for Sociological Research

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