Prof' Asaf Darr
University of Haifa
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My first stream of research flows directly from my dissertation research, and deals with the rapid digitalization of production systems and services in advanced economies, underpinning the shift to a knowledge society. Against the background of the transformation of the socio-economic infrastructure, my research focuses on the changes in the nature and organization of work in post-industrial settings. I empirically study the changing shape of sales work in the industries leading the technological transformation. These changes include a larger percentage of engineers in the sales force, an infusion of engineering knowledge into initial sales interactions, and in a greater dependence on social and interactive skills, when compared to sales in more traditional industries. The main questions my research deals with are: Under which circumstances do salespeople become technical experts and does sales work become technical in nature? In my recent book (2006) Selling Technology: The Changing Shape of Sales In an Information Economy published by Cornell University Press, I discuss the current shift in certain industries from the sale of a product to the sale of a process, and its important implications to the division of labor and to the cultural perceptions of sales work.
My interest in the sales of emergent technology also led me to launch a two year study where I look at the organization of work surrounding the implementation of ERP systems. In this project I describe and explain the complex web of global sub-contracting which is characteristic of the organization of expert labor in this sector of the economy.
My study of sales also led me to question the implicit association that appears in economic anthropology and economics alike, between capitalist societies and commodity exchange, and between pre-industrial societies and gift exchange. My study of gifting practices in the economic exchange of electronics components demonstrates that gifting occurs closer to the heart of advanced capitalist markets than existing literature holds, and is inextricably intertwined with the daily exchange of commodities. Furthermore, I demonstrate in my research that commodity exchange is based on obligation networks and norms of reciprocity created and sustained by way of gifting and counter-gifting.
I also study technicians, representing an ideal-type of a post-industrial occupation. Here, I claim that despite their centrality in post-industrial organization, technicians are not granted the status they deserve. I demonstrate that contrary to the manner in which they have been typically discussed by social scientists, not all technicians are alike. I explain that the identity of technicians varies from one technical occupation to another depending on the actors involved, the structure of their social interactions and social relations, and the properties of the technologies they use.
My second research streams focuses on the question of why the democratic election of leaders, which is so fundamental an institution in much of Western society, is held sacred in the political sector of social life but rejected in the economic one. In my research I explicitly challenge the way in which citizens in Western democracy accept as legitimate the stark differences between governance structures inside and outside work organizations. For example, in an empirical study I propose that democracy stops at the factory gates partly because of the practices and ideologies of practice of the professionals who construct and maintain the boundaries between the workplace and the larger economic and political sphere. Specifically, I look at the work of lawyers, accountants, and academics in situations where workers, who had just purchased their workplace, attempt to implement or maintain a democratic governance structure. I conclude that professionals prevent democracy from being implemented in the workplace.
Scholars who write about workplace democracy focus their attention on work oeganisations in which management is elected by the workforce. But in addition to the popular election of political leadership, democracy in the political sphere is instituted through the establishment of an independent judiciary that may stand in opposition to elected leaders, and protect the rights of the minorities against the majority rule. In my studies I work towards the inclusion in the definition of workplace democracy of worker justice and equity in the firm. A democratic justice regime includes the implementation of justice and equity for workers in the firm through the establishment of an internal court system and an independent judiciary, and through the development of mechanisms for an egalitarian distribution of rewards. In my empirical work I focus on a viable population of taxi stations in Israel, some of which are over 60 years old. I describe and explain the existence of democratic justice regimes within taxi cooperative.
Early studies of conflict resolution in the workplace had an explicit interest in exposing and criticizing the sharp differences between judicial systems inside and outside the workplace. They contrasted the democratic mechanisms for conflict resolution in society at large with the authoritarian systems in the workplace. The main goal of these studies was to minimize these differences by enhancing due process in the workplace. However, more recent studies in the field have come to take the boundaries between judicial systems inside and outside work organizations for granted, and no longer strive to overcome them. Instead, scholars tend to focus on measurements and manipulations of procedural, distributive, and, more recently, interactional justice in non-democratic firms. My research on taxi cooperatives illustrates that there is no reason to accept the boundaries between judicial systems in and outside the workplace as natural or economically necessary. I hope that the results my colleagues and I reach in our studies will help research on conflict resolution in capitalist firms regain its critical edge by questioning the existence of sharply different judicial systems inside and outside work organizations.