Professor Alan Bryman: 1947-2017


Alan Bryman, Emeritus Professor in the of the School of Management (now Business School) at the University of Leicester died on Thursday the 20th July 2017 at the age of 69. According to his wife, Sue, the cancer progressed very quickly in the last few weeks. He was not in pain, was very peaceful, and his family were with him.


Alan joined the School of Management in August 2005 after working for 31 years in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University. He was Head of School at Leicester from January 2008 to December 2009. His main areas of research and writing were leadership and other issues in organizational sociology; books on Disneyization and McDonaldization; and a long-standing interest in social research methods. In the latter area he was the author and co-author of two of the best-selling texts on methodology – Social Research Methods and Business Research Methods (with Emma Bell). More recently he was researching material on the explorer Ernest Shackleton for a piece on leadership.


These books, together with a great deal of work published over forty years, led to him being an extraordinarily well cited and internationally renowned social scientist. He was a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, and had recently been given a lifetime achievement award by the International Leadership Association.


But Alan was never just an academic. Alan and Sue enjoyed travel, cocktails, and red wine. He watched county and international cricket, often walking down from his house in West Bridgford to Nottingham Trent Bridge Cricket ground, where he was a season ticket holder. He even had his 40th wedding anniversary at the club house, overlooking the pitch. Several colleagues will know he liked all sorts of music, from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, Human League to Roxy Music, and Arcade Fire to Fleet Foxes, and went to many concerts.


Alan will be remembered by his friends at Leicester as a careful and thoughtful colleague. He was someone who was prepared to take public responsibility as well as showing private kindness and humour. His fascination with popular music and culture (lately ‘Game of Thrones’ and Scandi-Noir), his beloved Tottenham Hotspur, and his claims about his lasagne skills will be missed. Even his puns will be missed. Most of all though, his humility. For someone so renowned to be so modest is remarkable, and a measure of the man.


He is survived by his mother, his wife, Sue, his daughter, and two young grand-children, whom he and Sue adored.

Originally published at

Is informal workplace learning always invisible?


ULSB Research Associate and graduate Dr Kath Atkinson ( reflects on a new report about older workers, and the assumptions it makes about their learning.


How can a prominent UK government initiative to keep ageing workers in employment fail to incorporate a major form of workplace learning? The Department of Work and Pensions 2017 report ‘Fuller Working Lives’ aims ‘to support individuals aged 50 years and over to remain in and return to the labour market.’  The government has published several documents over the last few years, however, none of the work adequately addresses informal learning, the undocumented knowledge that comes with experience. This is a form of learning valued by all ages, especially many of those in the 50-plus bracket. So why does the report ignore it? Is informal learning being overlooked because it is ‘invisible learning’?


As is well known, the population in the UK is ageing, retirement ages have been abolished and the state pension age is moving ever further away.  It is not surprising therefore that expectations of retirement in the late 50s or early 60s have dwindled and there has been an increase in the over 50s in the workforce.  Although some continue working by choice, many need to remain in paid employment into their 70s.


In the workplace, the majority of learning is informal. It is incidental to the work taking place, it is not planned and nor is it examined or certified.  Despite being valuable, employers and researchers often overlook it. My research suggests that two main issues contribute to this.  One is that often the participants, and also their managers, do not realise learning is taking place, so they don’t mention it to researchers.  The second is that surveys often use attributes of formal learning, such as course registrations or certification completion, as a proxy for all learning undertaken.  Although convenient, this fails to collect any informal learning activity.  The consequent invisibility of informal learning is particularly significant for employees over 50 years of age in the knowledge economy. Learners in this sector tend to seek content rather than certification per se and therefore rely heavily on informal and non-formal learning.


With the learning activity of over 50s not adequately captured for analysis, it makes it harder for employers to know how to approach the development of this growing segment of their workforce. Indeed, the under-reporting may contribute to negative stereotypes of older workers not engaging in workplace learning at all. Supporting their learning will help older workers maintain and update their knowledge and enable them to be productively engaged in the labour market. In other words, understanding how older employees learn at work, and facilitating their learning, is essential for the success of policies to extend working lives.


So how come Fuller Working Lives does not cover this aspect? The reason appears to be the choice of underlying data, taken from the Labour Force Survey (LFS). This survey does not capture informal learning sufficiently well. The questions on workplace learning are mostly worded to suggest formal learning activities by use of words such as ‘training’ and ‘education’. Even in the question where informal learning could be captured, and despite the interviewer notes clearly explaining what informal learning is, the question wording steers the respondent towards more formal learning episodes.


The quick solution would seem to be to amend the LFS. However, this would involve a lot of extra work in an already long survey, and would only tell us what we already know.  We know informal learning takes place in workplaces and we know it is valued by all ages. So why not just ensure informal learning is considered when examining workplace learning?


Well one problem, as mentioned above, is that it is not as straightforward to identify because there are no easy-to-count courses. However, for those who therefore claim it is too hard and can only be captured by labour intensive qualitative study, owing to the need to educate respondents to identify such episodes as learning, think again. A team from the Centre for Labour Market Studies at Leicester proved it could be done in 2005 via a quantitative survey and construction of scales from pertinent variables. I successfully adopted this approach a few years ago in my doctoral thesis and am about to use it again. The supposedly invisible can be captured and analysed.  Informal learning really is visible, if you know how to look and if you want to see it.


So, if we, as researchers, are aware of the definition of informal learning and also the value placed on it by learners, it is surely our responsibility to ensure informal learning is incorporated into research on workplace learning. Regardless of the political and economic levers being manipulated to extend working lives, employees need to learn at work. We must therefore acknowledge the importance of ‘informal learning’, for all ages, and stop treating it as ‘invisible learning’.




Atkinson, K. (2015) ‘Does the Concept of Expansive-Restrictive Learning Fit Knowledge Workers Aged Over 50? An Examination of Selected Features and High-End Knowledge Workers in a UK Public Sector Organisation’ University of Leicester. (unpublished Doctoral Thesis)


Originally published at

The secret peacemaker: A quiet leader of our time

Professor Mark Stein of the School of Business mourns the key intermediary between the British government and the IRA with Leicester connections, who has died aged 80.
The secret peacemaker: A quiet leader of our time

Brendan Duddy


Brendan Duddy, the ‘secret peacemaker’ and intermediary between the British government and the IRA during the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland, has died aged 80 in his hometown of Derry on 12th May of this year. Duddy was someone who pursued dialogue and peace with extraordinary doggedness and perseverance, and played a key role in negotiating the settlement.


Duddy began his working life in modest circumstances in Derry in the late 1960s, running a fish and chips shop to which a young Martin McGuinness – subsequently the IRA Chief of Staff – delivered hamburgers. Following the terrible events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in Derry in 1972, Duddy became the principal, secret link between McGuinness/the IRA and the British authorities. Codenamed ‘Soon’ by the British authorities, he retained this role over a two-decade period, meeting regularly and in clandestine and difficult circumstances, sometimes at his Derry home.


Duddy’s life, and the lives of his family, were constantly in danger: he recalled, for example, one secret meeting in a hotel during which he overheard IRA men in a room below discussing whether they should kill him there and then. But through sheer grit and determination, his efforts bore fruit: Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s Chief of Staff, is one of many who has acknowledged this pivotal role, saying that without Brendan Duddy, there may never have been a peace deal. Duddy’s role and significance only became clear in later years, especially following a BBC documentary entitled ‘The Secret Peacemaker’, broadcast in 2008.


So, what is the connection with Leicester? Well, during the time of his secret work, Duddy attended –  and subsequently was on the staff of – the ‘Leicester Conference’, a two-week group relations and leadership training programme. First run in 1947, the Leicester Conference is the longest-established group relations training programme anywhere in the world, one that has trained thousands of leaders, and become a model for countless training programmes elsewhere. While the conference began as a joint project between the University of Leicester and the Tavistock Institute, subsequently it has been run by the Tavistock alone, but it continues to be run at the University of Leicester on an annual basis. The University – and especially the School of Business – has recently established closer links with the Tavistock, with further plans to reinvigorate the collaboration.


Duddy had a long association with the Tavistock Institute and the Leicester Conference, and especially with the Tavistock’s Gordon Lawrence, who was his coach and mentor throughout the time of the troubles. Although the nature of his work was highly secret, Duddy used the ‘Leicester Conference’ as the place to learn about group dynamics, and develop his already considerable group and leadership skills; subsequently, he helped train many others using these methods.


Anyone who had the good fortune to come across him at group relations training events and conferences, as I did, will remember him as someone who was unassuming, highly focused, with great passion and presence. With the exception of Gordon Lawrence, none of us had the faintest clue about his secret, double life, and about the profound but dangerous work he was engaged in. Subsequently, he has given talks about this work, always delivered modestly, never boasting about what he did, but focusing rather on the challenges and difficulties he faced. These talks were invariably followed by standing ovations in his honour, and one left with a feeling that one had been in the presence of a truly remarkable person.


Especially in the wake of the ‘Secret Peacemaker’ BBC documentary, Duddy’s reputation has spread, and he has become a role model for negotiators and mediators elsewhere. Martin McGuinness reported that, during the troubles in Colombia with the rebel group Farc, President Juan Manuel Santos told him that the chief back channel negotiator was codenamed ‘Brendan’.


Duddy’s funeral was attended by people from all over the political spectrum, including members of Sinn Féin, the SDLP, and Irish President Michael D Higgins. As the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland (Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh) has said, ‘in a world of violence, conflict and threats of war, we need more people like Brendan Duddy. Rest in peace’.

Originally published at

Google’s YouTube Battles with Big Brands

Here’s a short article I wrote for The Conversation on Google’s current battles with brands… More on this to come I think.

Originally published at

‘Seasonal, unprotected and undocumented’: What will post-Brexit immigration look like?

Now that Prime Minister Teresa May has signed Article 50, ULSB’s Dr Fabian Frenzel discusses the possibilities for post-Brexit immigration.

There has been much debate about the post-Brexit trade deals for the UK, following the stated aim of the government to not maintain membership in the single market. Much less attention has been placed the future policy area considered a major concern of many Leave voters: immigration.


The Government has thus far remained relatively quiet about its post-Brexit plans are for migration policy. In the public domain recent discussions have focused on the fate of the existing 3.2 Mio non-British EU citizens in the country, many of who face great uncertainty, after proposed amendments to the Brexit Bill to guarantee their rights were rejected by Parliament.


What is to be expected for future immigration policy? In September 2016 Theresa May said the Government would not pursue a points-based immigration system, proposed during the referendum by the Leave campaign. May rejected the model after studies showed it would probably not lead to a reduction of immigration. At the Conservative Party Conference in October the new Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that British companies will be forced to report their non-British staff to the government, a measure later withdrawn amid broad public criticism. Premier Minister May used the same conference to controversially describe migrants as ‘citizens of nowhere’.


A hard line on immigration is Theresa May’s defining policy interest. As Home Secretary from 2010 she signed responsible for the creation of what staff in the Home Office openly describe as a ‘hostile environment’ for non-EU immigration. Part of the process was the creation of deliberately misleading and opaque visa application forms, prohibitively high application fees, a flourishing private sector immigration services industry contracted to implement government rules and ever more severe limits to the applicants ability to challenge home office decisions legally.


This was flanked by large-scale outsourcing of the implementation of immigration rules to employers, landlords, to the health service and, in the case of international students, to universities. UK universities now have designated ‘visa check points’ and are forced to electronically monitor student attendance under threat of loosing their right to admit international students in the case of non-compliance.


The Conservative government was particularly harsh on India, all but closing down a key market for international students and even de-railing EU negotiations with India over a free trade agreement by refusing to listen to India’s wishes for a re-consideration of the immigration rules.


As Home Secretary May attempted to implement the Conservative government promise to bring down net-migration down to ’10 thousands’ or (more recently) to under 100.000 per year. But these targets have been consistently missed. Net-Migration, the number of immigrants minus the number emigrants, has remained around 300.000 over the last decade or so. The figures seem to correlate less significantly with government immigration rules and more with key indicators of the UK economy. The slight decline to just under 300.000 since the referendum can be thus partly attributed to the drop in the value of the Pound which makes jobs in the UK less attractive for migrant workers.


A number of questions arise with regards to future migration policy. Many observers have pointed out that May’s ‘hostile environment’ policies failed to reduce the number of non-EU net-migration, an area where the government has full control prior to Brexit, to under 100.000. To ‘take back control’ over immigration does not seem to be easy. How likely is it that Prime Minister May will be more successful in curbing EU migrant numbers post-Brexit? And more strategically: how can a ‘hostile environment’ for future EU immigration be reconciled with the broadly pro-business and free trade stances of the government?


It is no secret that key UK industries depend on migrant labour. Could these workers be replaced by indigenous labour? Recently Pret a Manger’s head of HR, Andrea Wareham, made headline news by pointing out that 1 in 50 applicants to the restaurant chain were non-British. The British Hospitality Association estimates that its members employ 700.000 EU migrants, 15% of the total workforce. While the public discussion at times veers to the hope that more British workers may take up jobs, current unemployment figures stand at 5%, fairly close to what economists consider full employment. In purely economic terms, limits to immigration thus may lead to higher wages. While this may be an outcome some Leave voters were hoping for, it also makes UK production more expensive. Without protection from imports, industries like agriculture will be less competitive while costs for products and services in the UK will rise.


This is emphatically not what the current government, nor the affected industries want. One alternative approach industries and the government seems to be actively exploring is seasonal labour. Amber Rudd has already promised the agricultural sector new legislation to that effect. But what is seasonal labour?


The Gulf Corporation Countries, where seasonal labour is the preferred migration policy, might serve as a model. Here migrants are allowed into the country for defined periods of time often not exceeding three months. They are housed in designated and segregated accommodation, often hostels and sometimes camps.


In comparison to current EU migrants, seasonal labourers would have very limited rights. Very likely they will not be allowed to vote in local elections, to form or join Trade Unions, or to move to Britain with their families, and they might not be covered by social security legislation. A further question is whether the minimal wage will apply to seasonal labour.


The model is attractive for industries as they retain access to cheap labour. The government would also benefit from seasonable labour:  migrants only start to count in immigration statistics once they have spent over a year in hosting country. Seasonal labour would not appear in the net-migration figure.


Other migrants that escape statistics are those without papers. Britain has a significant number of undocumented migrants already and government policy tents to express the desire to prevent undocumented migration. However, it can be considered a potential model for a more deliberate migration policy. In the United States undocumented migration has for decades functioned as an unofficial, but tolerated part of the migration regime.


More even than seasonal labour, undocumented migrants have very limited rights in their host country. As a consequence they accept lower wages, very much to the benefit of domestic competitiveness.


In these models the harsh anti-migration rhetoric of Theresa May and the leave campaign can be reconciled with the interests of British industries for cheap labour and increased competitiveness of Brexit Britain. Thus it seems very likely that tougher immigration rules post-Brexit will not lead to less immigration. Rather migrant labour in Britain will be less protected, less documented, and thus cheaper. Such developments will put downward pressures on wage levels in the country, very much against the interests of British workers.

Originally published at

Korean Women and the ‘Cat’s Labour Union’


In this week’s blog, ULSB PhD student Chanhyo Jeong ( writes about the women’s protests in South Korea, an inspiring story of how the relentless power of people can sometimes overturn the most powerful regimes.


South Korean democracy is only 30 years old. After the civil uprising in 1987, military dictatorship was ended. However, the Koreans recently witnessed how their young democracy is now capable of protecting itself lawfully and peacefully. On Friday 10th March, the South Korean constitutional court impeached the democratically elected, first female President Park Geun-Hye. She was removed from her seat immediately.


Behind this remarkable story, which is predicted to be made into various movies and K-dramas, the main characters are mostly women. The decision to impeach the female president started at no other than the Ewha Womans University. As the nation’s top women only university, Ewha’s feminist stance and elite status have been major targets of misogynists and internet trolls. Then the unthinkable happened.  In 2016 the university decided to open a new college that specialized in “beauty and wellness” which aims to cater to the demands of the industry. Students quickly organized a protest to claim “a university should not be a business”.


The women chose a unique tactic during their 86 days sit-in protest which they called “snail democracy” – slow, peaceful, voluntary, and leaderless. To concentrate on the main issues and protect anonymity, protestors hid their faces with baseball caps and masks. They started study groups sitting on the lawn. Their meetings were open to everyone, had no time limit and minutes were shared immediately. Other students brought supplies, including beauty products, hairdryers and flowers to the bathrooms. The spectacular pictures and videos went viral. People saw how the students were switching on their mobile phone lights in the night, choosing “Into the new World” by the popular female K-pop group Girl’s Generation, a catchy and saccharin sweet tune, for their protest song.


In September, the president resigned and the students stopped the university’s plan for a new college.


During the students’ open discussion, some students questioned the university’s unusual treatment of one mystery student, who did not show up in classes yet was known to receive a grade. Little did these students know, their complaint would result in the president’s impeachment in less than a year. The mystery student turned out to be a daughter of President Park’s old friend, Choi Soon-sil, who was involved in money laundering of the president’s hidden wealth. Also, some of Ewha professors were found to have permitted Choi’s daughter admission to gain more government funding. Then the media reported that the biggest South Korean company, Samsung, had bribed Park through Choi and presented expensive horses to Choi’s daughter. Samsung needed the support of the President regarding the succession of its 3rd generation heir, Jae Yong Lee. In October 2016, the official Investigations began. About 50 thousand people started the first candlelight vigil, and 2.3 Million people showed up at its sixth.


Inspired by the success of the students, the participants created joke organisations because organised protests get accused of being funded by North Korea. The use of satire and humour invited more bystanders into the movement. People gathered under various meaningless flags, such as “Democratic Cats Labour Union”, “Tigerbeetle Research Society” and “Zebra Research Society” and flags with the funniest names swept the internet.


President Park was silent. She refused to resign, and did not show up for her trial at the Constitutional Court. Her presidential style had been criticized for a long time because she was known to avoid media interviews without scripts, face to face reporting and only communicated via phones and email documents.


Park is a daughter of Chung-Hee Park, a former president and an assassinated dictator. During the 18 years of his dictatorship, Park’s father managed to rapidly develop the South Korean economy at the expense of democracy. Park also worked as an acting First Lady until her father’s death, since her mother was killed by a North Korean assassin in 1974. Park’s re-emergence to politics came after the Asian Economic Crisis in 1997. “Business friendly” politicians were keen on using Park’s influence on voters who still have nostalgic feelings about the rapid economic development in the 70s.


Not only was she a daughter of the past president, she kept her hair looking like her mother’s. Park became famous for it and it requires an experienced hairdresser. With 25 hairpins needed, her special updo is a laborious process.


South Korean women found their latest hair inspiration from another unexpected source. On the day the president was unseated, a picture of Jeong-Mi Lee, the head of the South Korean constitutional court went viral. Lee is the only female and the youngest of the nine member court. On her way to deliver the final verdict of the President’s impeachment trial, she was photographed by the press with two pink hair rollers still attached on her obviously self-cared hair. Instead of being mocked, Lee was praised and inspired lots of women wearing two pink hair rollers in the streets of Seoul on that day. South Korean women called her hair a symbol of a real working woman.


Remarkably, 20 weekly candlelight protests gathered total 15 million participants until President’s Park’s impeachment and ended non-violently, with not even a single case of a crash between protestors and police. High school girls voluntarily organized the street cleaning squads and the protest site was spotlessly clean every time. Korean tiger moms brought their children to the protest, because “Our children need to learn from living history”.


Like South Korea’s young democracy, feminism in my country is still evolving and faced with lots of challenges. However this time, the nation witnessed how Korean females successfully take civil disobedience initiatives to defend the true value of their education and democracy. Their courage and clever strategies, doubtlessly made the success of civil disobedience possible without any attempts of violence. In the era of Brexit and Trump, I am grateful to have celebrated the success of different kind of power, soft and relentless.


Originally published at

Circling The Square: Stories of an Unsettled Self

Dr Robert Grafton Small, who had been an Honorary Visiting Fellow in the School of Management for well over a decade, died in Glasgow on February 28th 2017.


RIP Bob Grafton-Small 1950-2017. My title is the title of one of his chapters, a typically allusive play on words by someone who combined keen intelligence and personal vulnerability in equal measure. His wit, moustache and care about every small detail will be hugely missed by all who knew him.


Bob was a regular visitor to the School, particularly to events organized by our Centre for Philosophy and Political Economy. He was also a longstanding member of the Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism, an international academic organization which has been well represented at Leicester since 2003.


He was born on January 21st 1950 in the suburbs of Birmingham. His brother Duncan Alistair Small was born in 1953 and is the only remaining immediate family member. In 1955 the family moved to Ludlow in Shropshire, living in Raven Lane. In 1963 the family moved again to Flat B in a subdivided mansion within the walls of Ludlow Castle.  The bedroom that he and his brother shared there now sells ice cream Duncan told me that his father, Peter Farquharson Small was a tax officer, and his mother Margaret Small (née Crosbee) an amazing knitter.


Bob attended Ludlow Grammar School (now Ludlow College) from 1961 until 1969. From there he left for Stockport College for a HND, John Dalton College of Technology in Manchester, Liverpool University for an MBA (where he lived in his parents’ house in Sefton after his father was transferred to Bootle in 1972) and then Sheffield City Polytechnic for his doctorate. His brother moved to the USA in 1979.


As a youngster he was very fashion conscious and followed John Lennon into a macrobiotic diet.  He used to smoke (especially Gauloise) and loved Newcastle Brown – but gave up alcohol early in life.  He was very close to his maternal grandfather James Leonard Crosbee – a vet and graphic artist. Bob also loved to draw caricatures, and many will have seen his moustachioed trademark signature on a drawing. Like René Magritte, Bob in his prime looked like a miniature caricature of an eccentric stockbroker, a square. When I first met him, at a conference in Edinburgh in 1998, I had already read his work and we had corresponded. I expected a monster of a man, told him so, and he reminded me (twinkling eyed) that the best subversion comes from the perfect bourgeois.



His friend and colleague Steve Linstead tells me that at Sheffield Bob had a disagreement with his supervisor about data gathering and he lost his funding. The DHSS forced him to take a job with the Commission for Racial Equality and he found himself interviewing people after the 1981 riots. A position as a research assistant at Hull College of Higher Education was followed by a job back at Sheffield teaching marketing, where he won the best performance of any teacher nationally in the Institute of Marketing Case exam.


A job at Strathclyde let to him settling in Glasgow, where he lived until his death. Most of his later life was overshadowed by Addison’s disease, and he was effectively kept alive by steroids as his immune system barely functioned and his body could not produce adrenalin. He enthusiastically embraced a later diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, perhaps as a license for a life lived with a quiet and slightly shy strangeness. Steve Linstead remembers many odd facts – he was a member of MENSA, rode a Ducati off road motorbike, was a county standard marksman, came 5th in the world in a bridge contest, and ranked 3rd in the Sheffield City Poly Students Union hi-score list on Galaxians but refused to use the hyperspace function as he considered it to be cheating.


Bob took medical retirement from a post at St Andrews in the 1990s, but kept publishing and firm connections to an academic life, including the edited book Understanding Management. He had a fellowship in the Department of Management at Keele University from the late 1990s, finally taking up his position at the then Management Centre at Leicester in 2004.


His research included ethnographies of the everyday, an interest in culture and symbolic consumption, and a lasting fascination with the transient. As Steve Linstead puts it – ‘He loved to play with brands and liked making incongruous juxtapositions work –  Italian beast-bike, Jaeger Le Coultre watch, made to measure hand stitched kicker style boots from a backstreet garage firm in Crookes, and his mum’s rainbow 3 metre scarf.’ His attention to words, to their arrangement, power and meaning, was relentless. The placing of a comma, the use of this word or that, were matters that led, towards the end of his life, to short dense pieces of academic writing. Almost like haikus with references, dotted with allusions and snatches of heard conversation from Glasgow streets.  He was an extraordinary writer and thinker, articulate and anxious, a crossword puzzle fanatic, and someone who many of us at Leicester and elsewhere have learned from, both as an academic and how to be an academic.


Have a look at if you want to see a list of his publications. He will be missed.

Originally published at

Are employees who revolt against their managers always ‘snakes’?

In his second blog on the theme, ULSB PhD student Rasim Kurdoglu explores the recent sacking of Leicester City’s manager and the suggestion that this was caused by a player revolt.



Is it justifiable to allow employees to revolt against their managers? Can subordinates question the skills of those who run organizations? In order to ponder on this question, let me return to the industry of football for a comparison.


Leicester City Football Club (LCFC) recently sacked their beloved manager Claudio Ranieri half way through a disappointing season. On the evidence of his press conferences and interviews, he seems to be a man who combines great humility and passion. He managed the club in the 2015-2016 season when the team became the champions of the English Premier League. It was an outstanding success for a club like Leicester City. For many, it was the greatest underdog story ever written and Ranieri was one of its architects. No wonder that there are plans to make a film about the little club that won the biggest league in the world.


Despite this success, when the same team underperformed this year and found themselves in a relegation battle, Ranieri was eventually removed from his post in the hope that this would save the club’s season. The glories of the previous year did not seem to matter anymore.


The decision to sack Ranieri has sparked enormous outrage, and a great deal of comment. The club is a big story again, but one aspect of this is particularly interesting for anyone studying management and organization. Pundits and social media are blaming the players for betraying the manager who made them champions. Speculation emerged in tabloids indicating that some senior players had talked to club owners and convinced them to sack Ranieri. As a manager, he might have been loved by fans for his character and for his success, but the players are said to have stabbed him in the back. Those accused of complaining about their manager to the owners are now labelled as ‘snakes’, a metaphor which symbolizes treachery. Social media is suddenly replete with snake pictures as symbolic comments on the news of the sacking.


It is questionable whether the players really revolted against their manager but let us assume that they did. Is that a morally unjustifiable act? Does that make those players ‘snakes’ who engaged in treachery? In any case, wasn’t the owner responsible for the final decision, whatever the players did or said?


Many other current club managers, like Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho, have commented on the situation, asserting that it is entirely unacceptable to allow players to have such power over their managers. Fans and many pundits are also busy condemning the ‘snakes’. The players of course denied the allegations, and suggested that it was ridiculous to assume that players have enough influence to topple their manager.


Leaving the football pitch and entering the workplace, we can use this example to show us a glimpse of assumptions about what employees can and cannot do. It seems that ideal employees should be docile, have no real voice or competence over decisions that influence them, have no right to question the effectiveness of the management that they are exposed to. Performance evaluation is portrayed as a privilege of managers, not of subordinates. The managed must simply follow the orders of their superiors.


Following this logic further, the ideal employee is a soldier who fights for his or her army and never hesitates to follow the instructions that he or she receives, even though their life might be at stake. If ideal employees think that they are being treated unfairly, they should leave the company instead of complaining, exit rather than exercise voice. If subordinates complain about their managers, they deserve to be taught a lesson as trouble makers.  The deeper assumption here is that power should always be top-down, not bottom-up.


Oddly, organizations like golden era pirates actually recognized more democratic rights than modern corporations or football clubs usually do. We know that pirates used to elect their captains, as well as have a variety of mechanisms for ensuring a safe and profitable ship. Perhaps the reason is that they already recognized what could happen if one sails a ship with full of disgruntled pirates!


I’m not commenting here on whether sacking Ranieri was fair or unfair. Personally I was genuinely sad to see him go. Sometimes good managers lose, but most times, in most organizations, employees lose. It seems to me that managers should fight to win the hearts of their subordinates as much as their subordinates should win the hearts of their managers. There should be more balance here, not a simple rush to portray rebelling employees as treacherous snakes if they comment on the capacities of their managers.

Originally published at

This is England, or did I inadvertently predict Brexit?

Richard Courtney reflects on the decade since his PhD, and in the light of Brexit and Trump, asks whether the social sciences have forgotten the white English working class.


It was ten years ago that I finished the field work for my PhD in sociology here at Leicester. It was a study of Thurrock in Essex titled: ‘This is England: Class and Ethnicity in Non-Metropolitan Spaces’. A typical Post-Industrial landscape that was neither totally rural, urban or metropolitan. The local area was littered with the disused remnants of its industrial and maritime past, such as the former Bata Factory in East Tilbury.


Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the architecture of consumer capitalism was super-imposed upon this landscape. Lakeside Shopping Centre and the Chafford Hundred housing development provided shopping and housing for commuters into London for work. From the outside, Thurrock could be regarded alongside places like Basildon, Daventry, or Nuneaton – as geographical illustrations of Marc Auge’s non-spaces. However, for the people living in these areas they were their spaces. It was also my space, because I was born and raised there.


I thought that these spaces were inhabited by a people who no longer knew who they were or what their relationship was to London, the UK, and the rest of the world. They exhibited a ‘dual consciousness’ where they used ideas about class at the same time as narratives of ethnicity and whiteness. Rather naively, I thought sociology would explain this. As I completed my PhD and moved into an academic life, I became increasingly interested in public sociology. This seemed to be the principle means by which social science could impact upon society. However, with Brexit, fake news and post-truth, I can’t help but think I failed and, more to the point, that social science has failed.


I felt sociology could expand understanding when it comes to issues of diversity and inclusivity. Thurrock was traditionally a ‘white area’ where diversity existed in the minds of local residents as something that applied to inner cities. Residents routinely used metaphors of hygiene, dirt, and garbage to describe the character of ‘immigrants’. In Thurrock these were often second generation Nigerians who worked in the public sector, IT, and other skilled occupations. However, in the minds of residents they were strangers whose personal intentions and culture was viewed with mistrust.


In 2005-6 by the then most prominent British right wing political party circulated a leaflet entitled: ‘Africans 4 Essex’. Its basic premise was that the new community had been offered a deal by Haringey Council, which meant that they were bought out of their council houses and used the money to move to Thurrock. None of this was true and it took Barking MP Margaret Hodge to demonstrate that it was false. However, many residents I interviewed still believed it, reasoning that everything you read in the media is a lie. Many people’s beliefs were so fixed that no amount of evidence to the contrary was plausible. They were already ‘post-truth’.


The people of Thurrock identified as local, as English, and in many instances ‘white’. At the heart of their lament for the decline of their former social status as ‘the British Working Class’ was a sense of resentment that ‘others’, namely migrants and cosmopolitan liberals had stolen their identity, not to mention their occupations, solidarity and space. They felt left behind, excluded, and that they were treated badly by a metropolitan multi-culturalism. They would claim that if minorities could celebrate their identity then why couldn’t the white English? They showed no understanding as to why something like ‘Empire Day’ wasn’t really something that could be celebrated equally alongside Black History Month.


Locals were not essentially racist or divisive; they just didn’t talk about themselves and others in the ways that social scientists would. However, during the mid-noughties, before Brexit, it was difficult within social science circles to discuss this world view without damning them for everyday racism and locating them in terms of predictable conceptions of class. This made understanding difficult. It’s difficult to empathise with a young woman telling you that they think all Asian people should be packed onto a boat that is then sunk. Does the fact that the young woman left school at 15, had never had a job, had no training or skills, had three children and was teetering into homelessness make a difference to your understanding?


I think that the current political situation is in part an outcome of the social sciences’ inability to impact positively and sensitively upon society over the past 30 years or so. And the reason is because we’ve shied away from confronting the challenging and often harsh realities of normal ordinary white British people – the self-identified ‘silent majority’. There has also been an over reliance on secondary data in much social science research that focussed on social characteristics that had little relevance to these people’s reality – an obvious example is the fact that these people couldn’t identify in the UK Census as English. From the late noughties onwards there were journal articles here and there, but no consistent position or intervention. This meant that post-truth got greater traction in the minds of ordinary people than social science.


In part this was a geographic problem because these people lived in places where little ethnographic research was occurring. Fake news has been rife for years in insecure economic spaces at the rough end of the economy, where ideas about knowledge, evidence, data, and perspective familiar to universities and the public sector simply do not exist. The Brexit result is an eruption of this world into the public sphere, and a widespread sense of a people who have been forgotten.


I’m not saying its social sciences’ fault that this is happened, I’m saying that it happened ‘on our watch’ and we should reflect on this fact. It is therefore our responsibility to engage with it and try to impact on the conditions that push people towards rejecting openness and internationalism. Without social science providing an empirical and conceptual compass for public issues, fake news and post-truth fills that space. We shouldn’t let an embarrassment that public opinion trumped our influence force us to abandon our normative commitments. We need to do more than hold more conferences and seminars, we actually need more engaged ethnographies. This will enable us to re-acquaint ourselves with society, because ultimately ‘Brexit’ shows just how much we’re estranged from it.


I might have been naïve when I was doing my PhD, but current events will not dent my resolve over the enriching role of social science in everyday life.

Originally published at