A sporting chance: workplace ethnographies, ethics protocols and playing by the rules

Jennifer Sappey

    Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter

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    This is a researcher's story of her student adventures into workplace ethnography. First, is the tale of participant observation of the Queensland commercial fitness industry which in the early 1990s was one of the last 'award free' industries in Queensland. My club membership paid and my access secured, my conservative business suit discarded for spangled leotards and the latest pumps, I went to work. These were the days prior to restrictions on workplace ethnography introduced by the Australian national ethics protocols in 1999. I was free to follow leads as they appeared and to report my own observations as just another participant at the gym. Little could I have expected that my observations of the conditions of employment of one particular fitness centre would mushroom into a full-scale industry analysis, as employers took the extraordinary step of discarding self regulation and sought a formal industrial award. In May 1994 I sat alone in the public gallery of the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission, conspicuously the only witness to what, at face value, simply did not make sense: private-enterprise employers seeking to have government regulate their relationship with their workers. It seemed liked a researcher's manna from heaven.Second, is a contrasting tale of doctoral research into the changing nature of work for academics in Australian universities in 2000. Unlike the freedom of research design and procedures from my fitness industry study which chased down leads as they appeared, the newly introduced national research ethics protocols with their restrictions on access, design and procedures were compromising the integrity of the research and even threatening to curb the project outright. The challenge was just how to retrieve the research project and still play by the rules, even though the ethics regulations hardly seemed to offer a sporting chance to a workplace ethnographer.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationMethod in the Madness?
    Subtitle of host publicationResearch stories you won't read in a textbook
    EditorsKeith Townsend, John Burgess
    Place of PublicationOxford
    PublisherChandos Publishing
    Number of pages11
    ISBN (Print)9781843344933
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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