What Is "Good Work" in Europeanized Work Teams? Practical Negotiations on the Shop Floor

(Last modified August 2012)

Work-related internal migration is one of the characteristic features of the Europeanization process, where transnational and intercultural collaboration between people from different national backgrounds is increasingly becoming social normality.

A description of the European everyday work context forms the starting point of the project. Methods of participant observation were used to investigate the way nationally mixed teams work together in the European context over a period of nine months. Subsequently qualitative interviews were conducted with individual team members of different nationality.

Organizing work in a mixed European team confronts individuals with the diversity of Europe in their everyday practice. Processes and perspectives about which tacit agreement appears to exist within nationally homogeneous work teams become the subject of individual negotiating processes. How is the work to be accomplished? How to respond to problems when they arise? How are structural workplace hierarchies understood?

Following Francois Dubet, categories of equality, performance and autonomy are drawn upon to trace how subjective feelings of unfairness are (re)constituted in a European frame. Up to what point is European diversity simply perceived as heterogeneity, and where and when does it become troublesome inequality? Does the category of national origin play a role here? Is perceived unfairness described in national terms? Does national origin serve as justification in a field where disparities exist?

Europe appears as a system of classifications that can be applied situatively according to a "system of relevance" (Schütz, 1945). The project examines the extent to which concrete courses of action can be assigned to this system and whether these are associated with working practices and/or cultural adaptation processes.

At the individual level negotiation is of crucial importance in relation to national and cultural inequality. A work situation generates its own "working consensus" on the dynamics of conflict: a superficial agreement among group members (Erving Goffman, 1959). According to Goffman, solving problems and conflicts does not presuppose any uniform understanding of reality. Instead, the conflict parties develop a modus operandi that is acceptable to all and permits work processes to continue. One central research question addressed by the project is whether and with what subjective sense of unfairness this mode is associated.