Blog archive October 2004

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31.10.04 / 02 / raw materials

was at tate modern today to 'see' - or rather hear - 'raw materials' by bruce nauman in the turbine hall. this is a sound work which fills the space - you can listen by following the link. pairs of speakers are placed on opposite sides of the hall. it's fascinating to watch people form 'queues' across the space along the lines of sound. the speakers aren't always saying the same thing on each side, so the effect may be stereo or counterpoint depending on where you stand on the line. it seems to have the makings of a sonic 'weather project' - people are already lying down again, even though there is no mirror, and nothing to photograph. maybe any work that creates an ambient generates a particular behaviour.

pieces in a large space
no rules/instructions/direction
the crowd create their own patterns of use and behaviour

there's lessons there for you alt worship bunnies. some of it reminded me of spoken stuff i/we've done in services - it made me think about why we don't experiment more with conflicting voices, and about using shorter/more fragmented sentences, and thus getting away from 'sermon' modes.

31.10.04 / 01 / the culture of work and after

i was intending to post a 'culture of work 4' which would deal with how management theory has co-opted the language of mission and spiritual growth in the service of corporate growth and commitment to [over]work. but i can't face the essay-writing.

suffice to say that the language and methods of evangelical mission have been subverted by big business. when both church and business speak the language of self-actualisation through teamwork, when they both construct the meaning of life in terms of activity for a cause, when they are both project-driven ['purpose-driven'], where do we go to just be? to be slow? to be off-message? to escape the work ethic? how, in this context, does church express alternative values?

a lot of my stuff is about ideas of church as resource, as refuge, as a space that will not co-opt you into another form of work for having stepped through its doors. i'm curious about an alternative frame of reference to the corporate/capital mapping of the city as consumption space.

i'm looking for a spiritual mapping of the city, 'the cross over the city' to [mis]use an evangelical term, where the church is simply there, in an accessible way, offering a different reading, a different set of coordinates to navigate by. where it becomes possible to stop - and in that stopping, to discern god. i think letting people walk away is the new evangelism.

17.10.04 / 02 / the culture of work part 3

I could write a lot - and I'd recommend you read 'Willing Slaves' [book list below] for the full picture of this complex problem - but I'll try to 'nutshell' as follows:

Not only are we working longer hours, but work itself has intensified, due to technology and globalisation which means 'the fast eat the slow'. These pressures are felt at all levels of employment.

A generation [mine] of British workers have an insecurity caused by their experiences of recessions and high unemployment from the 70s to the 90s. This means they give in to unreasonable demands for fear of losing their jobs. And it's a hire-and-fire economy now.

A legacy of the industrial conflict of the 70s and Thatcherism in the 80s is to weaken the possibility of collective response to overwork, eg through unions. People seek [and are encouraged to seek] individual solutions to their work problems which leave the structural reasons for their plight unchallenged.

There is a growing 'care deficit' in society, as people have less time and emotional resource to maintain relationships - family, friends, community - and their own health. Non-work activities suffer from lack of time and energy. Leisure time is about recuperation rather than expansion of horizons. Consumerism becomes a short cut to things that we do not have time to work on.

In a service economy 'emotional labour' becomes key for many workers - ie the deployment of your personality, empathy, emotional responses in the service of the employer. Jobs are as much about being someone as doing something. Employers invest in your 'inner journey'. You are encouraged to find self-realisation and self-worth in your work, rather than in externals such as family or community.

Work hierarchies have flattened, and there is an emphasis on teamwork and flexibility of roles. By shifting the culture of work to teamwork, it becomes much harder to refuse to work long hours - because you are letting your team-mates down in a much more personal manner than used to be the case. Your going home early means someone else stays late - or the project fails, and all your jobs and reputations are at risk.

In tandem with the above, work is shifting from process-driven to project-driven. The easiest picture I can think of is from the car industry - process-driven means you operate your machine and the cars pass through. Your job is about stamping metal, and you don't care what becomes of each car further down the line. Project-driven means you and your team produce one car from start to finish. Your job is whatever is needed to get the car made, and you are responsible with others for the whole product not just one part. Project-driven work produces an all-hands-on-deck philosophy – drop everything, do anything, to get the job done. It produces results, faster – but at a human cost. Workers move from crisis situation to crisis situation without periods of steady-state work in between. The option for rest becomes – leave the job.

Clearly there is a lot here that the Church, as the embodiment of an alternative set of values and a vehicle of collective response, could get to grips with. But, as Mark Greene of London Institute of Contemporary Christianity has pointed out in 'Slave New World',

50% of the evangelicals I have polled have never ever heard a sermon on work. Never. Not one. 75% have never been taught a theology of work - though almost all have been taught Genesis 1-3 - not a bad place to start. 75% have never been taught a theology of vocation. And only 25% have been encouraged to minister in their workplace. These are startling statistics. Contemporary Christians are simply not being equipped for life where they spend 65% of their time.

It may be that work culture is the elephant in the room that nobody is talking about, while we talk about changing church [which we have little time or energy left for] or doing mission in our leisure time [which we have little time or energy left for].

17.10.04 / 01 / the culture of work part 2

Some statistics about work in the UK, as quoted by Bunting [see my book list]:

Britain's full-time workers put in the longest hours in Europe at 43.6 a week, well ahead of the EU average of 40.3. The number working more than 48 hours a week has more than doubled since 1998, from 10% to 26%. Between 2000 and 2002 the number working more than 60 hours a week leapt by a third, to one in six of all workers, so that a fifth of 30-39 year olds are working over 60 hours. SInce 1992 the number of women working more than 48 hours a week has increased by 52%, and the proportion working over 60 hours has risen from 6% to 13% - one in eight of the female workforce.
According to two surveys, only 44% of British workers take all the holiday to which they are entitled - 39% of men and 49% of women. The most frequently cited reason was that there was too much work to do, followed by fear that taking a break might jeopardise one's job. Meanwhile the average lunch 'hour' is now estimated to be 27 minutes, and 65% of workers rarely take a full hour.
These long hours are the biggest cause of the dramatic decline in job satisfaction over the 90s, with the number of men reporting that they are 'very happy' with their hours dropping from 35% to 20%, and for women from 51% to 29%. A quarter of those who work long hours do so reluctantly "all or most of the time".
For the average household [where at least one adult is employed] 7.6 weeks more a year was spent in paid employment in 1998 than in 1981; this is made up partly by increasing numbers of women going out to work, and partly by men working longer hours. For most households that transfer of time is probably even higher, because people are travelling further to get to work [the average distance between home and work increased by a third between 1985 and 1998], spending up to an hour a day commuting on average.

06.10.04 / 01 / the culture of work part 1

it might be good to blog about work - my work and the culture of work, which forms the context for my comments on mission.

i work for Pringle Brandon, an architectural practice that specialises in corporate workplace design. our clients are major financial institutions, law firms, media including the BBC, and various large consumer-goods firms such as Diageo [alcohol], L'Oreal, Mitsubishi. Head of the firm Jack Pringle has just been elected president of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

our designs are based on the latest thinking about the nature and structure of office-based work. many of our clients are wishing to radically change their image and their working practices and the designs have to take them into that future. for a hitherto conservative client that may mean jumping from the early 90s into something that will take them through to 2010.

the current trends are:

  • a move away from desk-based work
  • desks no longer belong to one person
  • no private offices
  • systems of bookable rooms for meetings and private work
  • a variety of 'breakout' areas, for coffee, quiet and sociable work, networking and relaxing
  • Voice over IP
  • hierarchies becoming flatter as people take responsibility for their own work
  • teamwork as loose assemblages of people over specific projects
  • fewer specialised roles or 'linear' jobs

and in the medium-term future it's technology-driven:

  • the wireless office - mobile phone, PDA, laptop or tablet PC
  • internal 3G phone systems
  • the phone becomes software on your computer, you have a bluetooth headset
  • your cellphone migrates seamlessly from home provider to street provider to office network - you only have one number

leading to complete mobility - you can work anywhere - and complete captivity - you are accessible from anywhere. at which point [the end of this decade] office buildings will be about meeting people - face-time rather than screen-time which can happen anywhere.

the drags on these processes are:

  • speed of update of technology
  • conservatism of IT departments and upper managements
  • human factors relating to privacy, surveillance and work-life balance

and it's the latter i'm concerned about. more tomorrow, i have to be up early for a day of meetings!

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