A Farewell to Industrial Sociology: The Influences of Ethical Guidelines on Workplaces Ethnographies
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To promote transparency and the protection of participants, respect for persons, justice and integrity as well as for protection against litigation, universities and research-funding agencies in Australia adopted the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Research Involving Humans (NHMRC 1999). In many other countries there are similar statements. However, the ways that such statements are often implemented by Human Research Ethics Committees (HRECs)1 are in conflict with an important stream of industrial sociological research, which is significant for employment relations and human resources management. This stream seeks to deconstruct workplaces and delayer management rhetoric to understand the realities and complexities of the social relations of production. There is a fundamental pluralist assumption of industrial sociology which challenges management's unitarist view of the workplace as essentially harmonious. While views of workplaces as being conflictual and exploitative have to be tempered with an understanding of the accommodative and co-operative nature of workplace relations, there is nevertheless a general recognition of acts of resistance, as well as those of co-operation. The way in which the National Statement is typically implemented in Australia means that many HRECs require written, informed consent, which in the first instance will usually be that of management. A possible unintended consequence may well be a research focus on consensus which is at best one-sided and at worst seriously misleading. It is unlikely that managerial consent will be granted unless there is a "good news story" guaranteed.
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