Learning from retrenchment: local textile workers redefine themselves after global restructuring

Keating, M 2010, Learning from retrenchment: local textile workers redefine themselves after global restructuring, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Learning from retrenchment: local textile workers redefine themselves after global restructuring
Author(s) Keating, M
Year 2010
Abstract This thesis analyses the ways in which recent changes in the global field of work have resonated in the lives of one group of retrenched workers. In order to conceptualise the relationships between changing conditions and changes in individual lives, the author has drawn from the work of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Of particular importance to the study are his notions of the ‘habitus’, the ‘field’ and the ’disposition’.
The research focuses on workers leaving the textile industry, in which a diversity of individual ‘dispositions’ once flourished as part of another system or work ‘habitus’. This allows examination of how changing conditions of work have generated specific transformative possibilities for workers at the lower end of the economy.
The author asks what transformations were undergone in the lives of seventeen retrenched textile workers and how adequately their learning process was supported by vocational education and training.

In relation to the first question, it is argued that, as they re-positioned themselves within the new field over three years, workers each underwent transformations in their work identities, sense of belonging and sense of themselves as learners. For many, customer focus, entrepreneurship and dispersed social networks, as well as acceptance of change and openness to learning, had come to define their working lives and identities. However, the benefits of change flowed to very few. Although they had come to inhabit new work dispositions, retrenched textile workers tended to experience higher levels of stress and lower sense of motivation at work. Exceptions to this were obvious only where particular kinds of identity attributes and social networks supported individual transformations.

In relation to the second question, it is argued that vocational education and training confirmed worker dispositions, without supporting critical learning throughout retrenched textile workers’ transformations. Whilst VET (vocational education and training) participation had numerous ad hoc and unintended impacts on individual lives, its ability to support the critical learning of retrenched workers as they moved through change was limited by tensions brought about by the socially dis-embedded constructions of skill itself and of skilful workers.

This study investigates one group of retrenched workers from one industry. However, this group shared many features with thousands of retrenched workers who are leaving the manufacturing sector and finding positions in growing service industries at the lower end of the Australian economy. The government promotes VET qualifications for such workers, on the grounds that they both increase the range of skills for work at the national level and improve work opportunities in individual lives. However, this research suggests that neither may be the case. It also suggests that social connectedness, embedded within individual enterprises, industries and training courses is a vital condition for the development of a skilful, flexible and resilient workforce as well as for positive, transformative change in the lives of retrenched manufacturing workers.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global Studies, Social Science and Planning
Keyword(s) sociology
vocational education
work
textile
Bourdieu
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Created: Wed, 16 Feb 2011, 09:07:54 EST
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