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Prentice, Michael Morgan

Grant Type
Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
Insitutional Affiliation
Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of
Completed Grant
Approve Date
Project Title
Prentice, Michael Morgan, U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI - To aid research on 'Restructuring Corporations From Below: The Re-emergence of Hierarchy among South Korea's Conglomerates,' supervised by Dr. Matthew Hull

MICHAEL M. PRENTICE, then a graduate student at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, received funding in April 2013 to aid research on 'Restructuring Corporations from Below: The Re-emergence of Hierarchy among South Korea's Conglomerates,' supervised by Dr. Matthew Hull. This project (retitled 'Valuing Employees, Evaluating Performance: Technical and Textual Dimensions of Office Labor in South Korea') investigated how the social identities and organizational values of office workers were defined within a situated office setting. As democratically driven workspaces with flatter structures and open environments proliferate, such ideals contrast with notions of highly technical meritocratic or performance-driven systems. In South Korea, previously military-esque, large-scale organizations are giving into demands for both more democratic and more meritocratic working environments. Wenner-Gren support funded research into how Human Resources (HR) employees in Korea grapple with these twin challenges, as they hone methods and metrics for encouraging greater communication while calculating employee value. This project highlighted the technical and textual dimensions by which these ideals worked into practice. For HR workers, office democracy does not exist in an abstract sense, but comes to be worked out through negotiations over surveys, feedback forms, training sessions, and group meetings. Evaluation, too, became a site for debating the intricacies and paradoxes of measuring abstract office labor. By focusing on a large corporation in South Korea, this research contributes to the anthropology of non-Western capitalist organizations and office labor. It sheds new insights into how technical and textual forms of communication interact and mediate forms of organizational social life, ultimately showing how worker value (through the expression of a voice) and worker performance (through surveys, forms, and records) co-exist in complex assemblages.