Revisiting the study of occupations: a holistic view of contemporary secretarial work
Zuin, Débora Carneiro
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This thesis revisits the study of occupations. It proposes a holistic approach for analysing occupations in relation to three dimensions, focusing on the content, the lived-experience and the context of the job as the key elements in framing occupational work. Primacy is given to the job content and how this interacts with lived experience and context. An ethnographically-informed methodology was employed, which included interviews with 9 legal secretaries and 15 medical secretaries in Scotland. Their occupational content was interrogated in terms of their knowledge, skills, qualifications, tasks, task discretion, practice and interpersonal relations. The context of their occupations was examined in relation to their organisational, sectoral and industry location and degree of formal and informal collective organisation. To understand their lived experience, the study investigated their routes into secretarial work, how their work informed and was informed by their personal identity and the outcomes of their efforts. The findings revealed that the work of these secretaries has changed and extended to include an extensive list of tasks and skills. A variation between the work of medical and legal secretaries was discovered in relation to the tasks developed, and a small variation in the kind of knowledge required to undertake their tasks. In part, secretaries did not realise or appreciate the extent of skills they deployed in their jobs, and they exhibited anxieties in relation to forthcoming organisational changes that might affect the work they do. Respondents also demonstrated a degree of conflict and ambiguity in the development of their work. Although having discretion and autonomy to develop their work, secretaries still suffered from conflicting information with and from management. The empirical findings generate valuable information on the labour process and identity of medical and legal secretaries contributing to our understanding of their work. The thesis concludes by assessing the merits of a holistic approach to understanding occupational work.