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Book Kiruna LKAB Management Media Union Worker

Working hard or hardly working?

On March 18, local newspapers report that two workers at LKAB:s iron ore mine in Malmberget (125 km from Kiruna) have been caught furnishing a secret sleeping room at work. On March 26, they are fired. Two other workers chose to resign.

On March 20, we arrive in Kiruna, and the first person we meet is the man delivering the rental car. He is born and raised in Kiruna, and used to work in the Kiruna mine when he was younger. About miners sleeping at work, also in the Kiruna mine, he just laugh: “Everybody knows!”.

Yes, we’ve also heard this from our many conversations with workers, managers and others in Kiruna, although we must state that we have never seen one of these sleeping spaces ourselves. We have, however, met those who said that they can point such a space out to us. Reactions in social media also reveal that “sleepworkers” seems to be a well-known phenomenon, although this is questioned by the company’s information manager as a way of talking without necessarily knowing that this phenomenon exists in practice.

Both a union representative and the company’s information manager state that sleeping during formal breaks is okay, but not when you’re supposed to work. Perhaps we have to be self-critical, the information manager adds, how this particular case could be allowed to happen.

Several questions are actualized by this event. Assuming that sleeping at work, to a large or small extent, is a real phenomenon,

  • why bring this to media, at this particular time? On March 20, the CEO is in the papers talking about difficult years to come. Does this have anything to do with going public with the sleepworkers?
  • where is management? The workers are revealed and fired, but what about managers? If this is well-known by people outside the gates, it must be known by managers as well. It seems that only the sleeping workers are held responsible and what message is thereby sent to workers (and managers and external stakeholders)?
  • how is it that sleepworkers’ efforts are not made visible? Their efforts should be missed by management and made visible when performance is measured, no?

Underground workers we’ve met talk about the importance of a good work morale and that those workers who work should be at work, nobody else (see the first video with Ronja from October 22, 2015, and the one with Göran from October 15, 2015, for example). We recently heard from an underground worker that they now work harder than ever in order to handle the pressure to increase productivity. In Swedish: “Vi sliter som aldrig förr”. But still, some workers are not.

Swedish sociologist Roland Paulsen, in his book “Empty labor” (Cambridge University Press, 2014), states that: ”sleeping employees represent a theoretical challenge to the supposed rationality of wage labor” (xiii). Empty labor, as “everything you do at work that is not your work” (p 5), is not only very common but also very under-researched, particularly if we see beyond collective ideas about idleness and workplace resistance and zoom in on how and why individuals manage to not work at work. After all, empty labor “can be a trap; it can be a way of coping, a personal pleasure, or a type of sabotage, depending on the organizational context and the subjective intent of the employee” (p 41).

Does sleepworking imply that organizational rationality has to be re-thought, so as to make room for (but not necessarily accept) sleepworking as part of a rational phenomena of organizations, or does it infer a stronger focus to defend the current, dominant discourse of organizational rationality? We lean towards the former (and towards studies – and others – that take such a perspective seriously).

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Book Nature Researcher Stuart

Mining capitalism and corporate ethnography

Below, please find a text by Stuart Kirsch, professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, author of (among many other texts) Mining capitalism (University of California Press, 2014):

“Response to Organizing Rocks blog

Many thanks for engaging with the discussion in Mining Capitalism about corporate ethnography. The question of attachment to the subject or object of scientific research is even broader than our immediate concern: we tend to develop long-standing commitments to that which we study. For example, many of the wildlife biologists I know have gone on to become active conservationists to ensure the survival of the species they study, and archaeologists and historians may see their role as actively preserving the memories of societies and individuals that might otherwise fade from recognition.

But within corporate environments, empathy isn’t the only risk. Corporations possess powerful modes of disciplining employees, which extend to internal reformers and whistle-blowers. Internalizing and domesticating critique is what lets corporations claim that while critics may have been right to target them with environmental criticism in the past, it is no longer necessary to do so as they’ve already taken these messages on board, and consequently have reformed their operations to address concerns about sustainability. Hence the popular corporate oxymorons of “sustainable mining” and “clean coal” promoted by the industry.

Moreover, it is hard to imagine that ethnographers are capable of avoiding these forms of soft power entirely, even though we may try to convince ourselves of our independence. An interesting point of comparison is the relationship between the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry. Most doctors and researchers will say that they are not influenced by their financial relationship to ‘Big Pharma’, although they are less confident that the same holds true for their peers. Consequently, there have been significant reforms within the medical establishment to manage these relationships over the past decade, which mandate disclosure and attention to conflicts of interest.

While some of these measures trickle down to the social sciences through various oversight mechanisms, including ethical procedures established by institutional review boards, these policies are established primarily by people in the medical and natural sciences, and therefore may not be sufficient for our needs. Yet social scientists remain confident they can successfully navigate these relationships without any significant impact on their work, much like the majority of physicians prior to these reforms.

One of the ways this affects research on the mining industry is the often negative and sometimes dismissive reaction to social movements and nongovernmental organizations that are critical of industry practices. Close affiliations with mining companies — including driving around in company vehicles, wearing their hardhats, bunking in their facilities, and eating in their mess — may also alienate researchers from these NGOs, who are skeptical of social scientists who appear to have been captured or co-opted by industry. Furthermore, the mining industry has the resources to marshal data that is seen to trump anything produced by their under-resourced critics by virtue of their superior access to data and apparent thoroughness. Ironically, however, external critics tend to have a better track record than the industry in predicting future impacts from mining operations, which tend to be far more optimistic than is warranted.(1)

But I completely agree with the posters that we have to interact with and interview mining company personnel, and understand that getting access to mine sites and environmental data produced by mining companies is an essential part of doing research in this arena, even if this requires us to wear their hats on occasion. My only caveat is that we need to remain vigilant to the risks of cooptation and corporate discipline in these encounters, reservations that we all appear to share.

(1) See, for example, the study by Kuipers and others (2006) that shows how environmental impact assessments conducted by mining companies systematically underestimate their their impact on water quality (Kuipers, J.R., A.S. Maest, K.A. MacHardy, and G. Lawson. 2006. Comparison of Predicted and Actual Water Quality at Hardrock Mines: The Reliability of Predictions in Environmental Impact Statements. Prepared for Earthworks. 195 pp. Available online at: http://www.mine-aid.org/predictions/).”

The picture heading this blogpost is of Johan and Tommy in the visitors mine in Kiruna, Sweden.

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Aboriginals Book Cameco LKAB Researcher Supplier

Empathizing with the subjects of study

We’re reading the book “Mining capitalism: the relationship between corporations and their critics” by Stuart Kirsch (2014, University of California Press). It’s an impressive study, based on more than two decades of ethnographic research related to particularly one indigenous community and its struggle with the OK Tedi mine on Papua New Guinea. We’ll have reasons to come back to this book further on, but one thing strikes us early on.

On page 12 Kirsch writes: “However, conducting ethnographic research within the corporation poses a risk of co-optation, because the tendency of ethnographers to empathize with the subjects of their research may influence their findings or temper their critical perspectives.” First impression reading this is that this is always a risk, regardless of where we move about, who we talk to, interact with. It has to be dealt with, not avoided or rejected. Second impression is that in Kirsch’s case, it is perhaps more straightforward in terms of where his values align, given the proven environmental and social devastation inflicted on indigenous communities following the OK Tedi operations and on the rather evident power asymmetries between corporations and states on one hand and the communities and NGOs on the other hand. Still, even in cases where the actors and their interests seem clear, they’re oftentimes not.

We sometime move around inside different companies within the realm of our project (LKAB, Cameco, contractors). For sure, we get to know people, develop relations beyond mere professional relations with some of these persons. And they are not homogeneous ‘corporate persons’. They are ‘whole’ persons in ‘whole’ realities. Large companies like LKAB and Cameco are also not homogeneous, regardless of how effective the communication and branding departments are.

But, as we see it, to be able to discover something, researchers, as do all human beings, need empathy to be able to investigate an interest further. This said, the so-called subjectivity is not a fallacy, it is a precondition for scientific research.

However, there is a risk of being co-opted or of developing rather dogmatic stances. The cure for this is to constantly be in doubt, a bit skeptical, and to have a sensitive mode. We might be wrong. It might even be reasonable to think that we are very often wrong (wrong in the meaning of understanding different perspectives, not in terms of true or false).

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Book Documentary Moviemaking

Visual methods

We’ve heard several arguments on how the role of photos and video will increase the views, likes and hits our project gets, if we manage to use such visual methods that is. We understand these arguments even though they are rather instrumental. Feels like we’re on “the market of research projects”, fighting for attention. See us, read and view us, pick us!  But of course, to be honest, see us, read and view us, pick us, are important for this project and to us. Why else be on social media, why bother writing music and lyrics, taking and working with photographs, shooting and editing short movies.

However, visuals contain other effects than instrumental ones, which demand other arguments and views, especially methodological ones. And of course such arguments and views exist from the start of this project (see some of the references at the bottom of this post). One of our favorite sociologists, Zygmunt Bauman, has paid attention to how the increasing production and consumption of images add to the development of a liquid society (the increasing production and consumtion of images Bauman picks up from others’ work – a theme that is rather well explored; it is mainly the connection of this to his analysis of liquidity that is novel). Just think about how visual media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube, and so on) are changing human relations (swarm like behaviour, coordinated but not integrated, I am seen and therefore i exist), structures (big-brother or weakest link style and function, individual solutions to collective problems is the only offered way to move forward), networks (no stationary panopticon to attack, until further notice relations), time (zero-time in his conceptualization), spatial mobility (deterritoralization), geopolitics and wars, and resource struggles and fights.

Bauman primarily focuses on what happens to human responsibilty and collective political efforts in times of increasing production and consumtion of images, concluding that self-interest and consumerism are on the rise. But he also – as many others as well – concludes that visuals and social media make the heart and belly come into play, that is: all kinds of human emotions ‘outside’ the rational part of the brain. This view is important to us and to this project. Social science is, however, still very much focused on the rational part of the brain, trying in vain to stay unconnected from the heart and the belly. And therefore the discourse is still strong – rational conversations and analytical writing dominate. But visualization is a way of provoking and analytically take into consideration other types of human reactions and sensations.

A few examples suffice perhaps.

DSCF2231
House of Science, Luleå, November 4, 2015

After a presentation of our project at the House of Science in Luleå on November 4, in which video interviews from the homepage were shown, a person from the audience concluded that: “The interviews went straight to my belly”. Visual methods, that is, might play an important role when sharing context-sensitive case studies of complex phenomena (such as a labor process in a changing mining industry) in that it also reaches the heart and the belly. What do you feel when seeing the video of Ronja or of Göran (see earlier blogposts)? And what did the video-making do to Ronja’s and Göran’s storytelling about their working-life and life in general?

Visuals also trigger our analytical imagination. Take the pictures below. The first – we think – is raw, almost brutal, like a mutant insect, waiting to attack. This is how we experienced parts of the operations underground and we searched for ways to somehow get a grip on this, through working with this picture, but also through combining still and moving pictures with a song and lyrics (the music video Spaceland).

DSCF9225

The second picture aims to give a different view on how we also experienced life underground that is much more characterized by caring, mending, servicing, feminity.

DSCF9218

These examples and our brief interpretations are admittely a bit simplified, but hopefully they help revealing how still and moving pictures (with music) can add to the stories we craft about life underground (in this case).

The picture heading this post, by the way, is of the platform where the workers wait for the bus to take them to their workplace before every shift (morning and afternoon).

 

Bramming, Pia, Hansen Birgitte Gorm, Bojesen, Anders, Gylling Olesen, Kristian (2012) “(Im)perfect pictures: snaplogs in performativity research”. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal 7(1): 54-71.

Green, Nicola (1999) “Disrupting the Field: Virtual Reality Technologies and “Multisited”’ Ethnographic Methods”. American Behavioral Scientist 43(3): 409-421.

Murthy, Dhiray (2008) “Digital Ethnography: An Examination of the Use of New Technologies for Social Research”. Sociology 42(5): 837–855.

Van Maanen, John (2006) “Ethnography then and now”. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal (1)1: 13-21.

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Book Kiruna LKAB

Once a citizen of Kiruna, always …

This blog-post is a mixture between a conventional small piece of text and another musical piece. So the idea is text first and then the music. The song is here, though (for lyrics – scroll down).

There is a saying in Kiruna that carry the meaning that if you are born and raised in Kiruna it leaves a mark on your character that stays with you forever. The geographical location, the people, the wilderness and the mine, influence people’s character in a distinct and unique way. So, people leaving Kiruna stay more or less the same. Kiruna in this sense is something essential, it has a core, at least according to the saying. This story is told by those living in Kiruna as well as the people who have left the town.

There are quite many books and other works that have explored this ‘essence’ – masculinity, working class, Hjalmar Lundbom and the management of LKAB who had visions for the ‘ideal’ town, wilderness and the wild but honest man, the victimized position vis-a-vis the south etc., which offer interesting reads. Stories also circulate (in texts, in oral storytelling) about people moving to Kiruna having trouble to fit in, and there is a continuous debate about ‘who is a genuine Kiruna-citizen’, that in a sense constructs a pecking-order.

We believe that it is hard to overvalue the Kiruna mine’s historical and contemporary significance to all this! The mine is commonly thought of as the reason to why Kiruna exists; and maybe rightly so since LKAB started to build the town when the mine was ‘opened’ (but there have been human settlements in Kiruna far longer back). The mountain and the mine, LKAB:s shaping of the labour process for not only the miners but for the whole ‘worker community’, and its embedding in different power relations, is hard to neglect. At least that is our impression so far.

People stay in Kiruna, and can stay in Kiruna, as long as the mine is there, extracting the iron ore. ‘Inevitable dependency but the possibility to choose to stay’ might be a sentence suitable to depict what we have heard and read about.

But part of the reason for why people, and especially young people, leave Kiruna is because of the mine and the tradition to either directly work for The Company or indirectly work for the many support industries. Young people, as we know, sometime develop other visions for their lives than what the established social order dictates. They want to break free. So they leave, to break free, and most probably they leave for southern parts of Sweden. Many don’t look back – but carry the Kiruna-mark with pride – while some come back, a bit older, more educated, with job experiences. Many of them will work for the mine and The Company. This is a story that we have read about but also heard for ourselves. This is a story about coming home, but the story rarely contains a main character: the mine. The reason for coming home is because of the town and its people, the landscape and the wilderness, the opportunity to take up a lifestyle more connected to the nature. Its a good place to raise children.

But what about the mine? If the mine is so central to Kiruna and the community, then at least the mine has to be part of the reason for coming back, at least indirectly. One grand narrative, as we already wrote above, is that as long as the mine exists, Kiruna exists; its hard to avoid having a relation with, and a dependency to, the mine.

But, surely, there must be people who come back to Kiruna because of their connection to the mine, the mine work, and the (legendary) life style connected to being a mine worker! People that have been, so to speak, marked by the mine in their upbringing and development of character. So far, we have not come across such a story, neither in our conversations nor through reading others works (but we have plenty more to read and more people to meet about the mine and Kiruna, that is for sure). Below is a short text about a person coming back to Kiruna for the sake of the mine. The person has lost his or her job, but instead of trying to find a new one at the current location s/he travel home. Its about trying to break free but ending up fulfilling his or her fate. The song could be located anywhere in time; 2015, 1950 or 1905. In a way, the story is most probably about a man as there are few, and historically even fewer, female mine workers. But it does not have be the case. Further, it is not a tragic story, but a story that portrays hardship and dependency. Therefore it is a blues tune, in a rather up-tempo blues rock style (an evident nod to Jimi Hendrix; no further similarities).

 

Coming back (they say you never leave) 

Text, music, instruments (drums programmed) and vocals: Tommy Jensen

 

Back to the mountain

The village was the same

Back to the mountain

The people was the same

 

Back for the mountain

Lost my job down south

Back for the mountain

But the work has changed

 

Back inside the mountain

Long hours, stunning pace

Back inside the mountain

Gotcha get paid

 

Coming from the past

The mine continues its future

Being in the present

It sticks to its past

It defies everyone who leave

 

Back to the mountain

Its my past, my present, my future

Back to the mountain

It has defined who I am

 

Coming back to the mountain

Coming back to the mountain

Coming back to the mountain

 

 

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Book Researcher

Science is performative

”Science in action” (Latour, 1987) by the French sociologist Bruno Latour is a major inspiration for our study. Basically the message by Latour is that science is performative, not ostensive. Instead of viewing science as merely attempting to describe things, with an objective gaze, from a neutral position, a performative view on science implies that the way scientists develop their theories and assemble their methods change the very thing it attempts to describe. This also applies to other human and nonhuman things that, in the vocabulary of the English sociologist John Law, the scientific study happens to interfere with (Law, 2004). Be it atoms, microbes, plants, or organizing rocks.

science in actionJohn Law