Managing the Postcolony: An ethnography at the Bank Technology Centre

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Felicity Heathcote-Márcz

Abstract

This thesis makes the case for postcolony in contemporary organization. To put it differently, this work seeks to tell the stories of legacies of Empire, colonial rule and the othering of experiences that did not conform to static images of the technology entrepreneur (white, masculinised, flexible) – at one organization. This research is based on an ethnographic study from 2014-2016 of a global Bank Technology Centre in the North of England (the ‘BTC’). This thesis works with Achille Mbembe’s concept of postcolony (2001), in order to help explain the ethnographic encounters at this fieldsite, including the drive towards ‘appification’ and de-materialisation of work at the BTC, and the metaphors of war and practices of violence that were normalised at this organization, in particular in relations between British staff working at the BTC and their counterparts in developing countries - or ‘global hubs’ - such as India and Lithuania. This bank’s colonial history (as the ‘Colonial Bank’) is also examined in terms of the impacts on its modes of organising (Lury, 2004, 2013) today. A temporal phenomenology of postcolony is argued to exist at the BTC, as colonising modes of organizing time and material experience continue to dominate the working lives of staff at this site in post-colonial times. This thesis seeks to explore these themes via an attention to brands at the BTC (chapter 2), the work methodology of Agile at the BTC (chapter 3), and by exploring how language, spaces and the future of the organization were structured by practices of war and violence, salient features of the postcolony according to Mbembe (1992, 2001, 2017). This is a research project that endeavours to do ethnography ‘against the grain’, in the spirit of Harrison (1993), Stoler (2010) and Prasad (2015), with a concern for doing ethnographic research with an awareness of the historical dominance of Western-centric epistemologies and neo-colonial methods, which can still cause harm in organisations, including the academie, today (Todd, 2009, 2017). It was Walter Benjamin who first coined this term “against the grain”, referring to the Marxist historical materialist belief that the horrors of the past do not possess the last word (to paraphrase Horkheimer), that there is a Messianic Redemption to the future that breaks history. For Benjamin, breaking with a homogenous past of suffering and believing in the future ‘permits one to utter a confident No to the existent order’ (1983, p.635). It is in such a spirit (if not with quite such commitment to historical materialism) that this work seeks to engage with postcolonial questions of organization, by specifically addressing the complete side-stepping of Achille Mbembe’s work in almost the entirety of business, management and organization scholarship. This thesis aims to begin a dialogue with a post-colonial organization studies community on Mbembe’s significance as a 21st century thinker with transformational ideas for organizations today.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date31 Dec 2019