Analysis of Workplace Rituals in the Media, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

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Activity Description: 

Related Encyclopedia Topic: Rituals of the Workplace

Purpose: Understanding media images of expressive and symbolic action at work and along the work-family frontier

Steps:
In light of the readings, students can be encouraged to scrutinize mass media representations of the workplace, on television, in movies, in print and on line. If available, it would be fascinating for students to watch corporate training films, with an eye to the ritual aspects of obligatory behavior.

Consider, as well, the fascinating scenes in Roger and Me (1989) in which Michael Moore tries to pierce the bubble of corporate security around a CEO. Students might discuss the extent to which Moore has violated the ritual "taboos" of the modern workplace or is himself engaging in a marginal play and a carnivalesque ritual of reversal.

Hollywood films of women in the workplace (from His Girl Friday and Gentlemen's Agreement, 9 to 5, and Working Girl) might be critically examined with an eye to gender and class symbolism as well as ritual dynamics.

What social principles about gender and labor are simultaneously violated and reinscribed through the rites of reversal invariably enacted in these films? How are contrasts and transitions between "work" and "family" domains signaled? In Gentlemen's Agreement, for instance, the hero Gregory Peck not only exposes anti-semitism but ends up choosing a stay-at-home wife over a successful career woman; in 9 to 5 the heroines triumph by physically confining the sexist male boss within a house/home; in His Girl Friday the heroine is forcibly "reminded" that work and family life are fundamentally incompatible.

Students might discuss how work-family relations are represented in popular television shows. Which shows only show the workplace, but do not directly show the characters' home-life? Which shows only show domestic scenes, but relegate work experiences to off-screen? Which shows move back and forth between work and home settings? Are work and home in these shows represented as deeply in tension with one another?

Scott Adams' cartoon strip "Dilbert," a fascinating social and cultural phenomenon in itself, is subject to a growing scholarly literature ( Carter & Howell ,1998; Davis ,2001). Students might engage in a classroom debate as to whether displays of "Dilbert," in office cubicles for instance, constitute effective workplace "resistance," alienated co-option, or something in between. (It would be interesting, in light of work-family concerns, to examine what kinds of cartoons are displayed at work, as opposed to what kinds of cartoons are displayed at home, on the kitchen refrigerator; are different kinds of humorous commentaries appropriate to these varied settings?)
 

Activity Source: 

Suggestion submitted by Mark Auslander, Brandeis University.