Workplace Literacies and Audit Society

Karin Tusting

A range of ethnographic research in literacy studies has focused on workplace literacy practices, particularly increased textualisation and changing writing demands (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1996; Farrell, 2006; Brandt, 2009). The volume and complexity of workplace paperwork have increased in many workplaces. Work intensity has also increased as paperwork is co-ordinated with other tasks. This has an impact on time and space available for other activities at work, such as caring and emotional work (Davies, 1994), 'hands-on' tasks (Lamvik, Naesje, Skarholt, & Torvatn, 2009) or workplace learning (Arthur & Tait, 2004). Increased centralisation of paperwork demands means that the sources and purposes of paperwork can become unclear (Ball, 2003). Professional identities and relationships are transformed when goals of accountability and performance management seem to change the nature and purpose of the work (Farrell, 2001; Iedema & Scheeres, 2003; Karlsson, 2005).

Power (1997, 2000) argues that a set of interrelated social changes in the 1990s caused an 'audit explosion'. These included New Public Management in the public sector, political demands for greater accountability in service providing organisations, and the extension of quality assurance practices from industry across the public and private sector. Such practices - regular monitoring against quantitative performance measures, fed back to management - have changed how organisations are regulated. Workers produce their own auditable measures of performance. External audits check that these internal control systems are in place. Performance measures are designed not just in terms of how well they measure performance, but perhaps predominantly by how well they make performance visible, creating a 'window' on the organisation thereby making monitoring and intervention possible. This shapes how 'auditable performance' is produced and interpreted.

For Power, these practices have unintended consequences. Auditable accounts of performance do not necessarily produce transparency, particularly when auditing becomes defensive. Auditees learn 'creative compliance'; finding ways of performing well on auditable measures, without changing performance. Relationships alter where audit demands are predicated on, and create, mistrust.

Such processes are very visible in educational workplaces. Education is governed by policy frameworks, inspection bodies, examining boards, funding agencies, and various other authorities, who all have different reporting demands. Studies in schools (Troman, 2000; Williams, Corbin, & McNamara, 2007) and in further education (Hamilton, 2009) have linked policy-mandated audit practices to increased levels of stress.

This chapter draws on examples from a study which explored the impact of such demands on people's workplace experiences and identities in two contrasting educational workplaces (Tusting, 2010a, 2012). The genesis of the work was in previous research carried out in adult literacy, numeracy and ESOL classes, shortly after the introduction of a new national strategy (Barton et al. 2007). Paperwork and management practices were not the focus of attention in that study. However, tutors' experiences of new curricula, performance measurements and associated paperwork emerged as a key factor shaping their experience (Tusting 2009).

The study reported on here was designed to explore tutors' experiences of paperwork in more depth, in two sites: a college, and an Early Years centre. These were both places where changes in national policy and inspection regimes had recently changed the nature of paperwork demands. My interest was in the experiences of front line staff around the literacy practices associated with 'paperwork': broadly, reading and writing tasks (paper-based or digitally-mediated) directly associated with people's work. I worked with nine tutors at the college, mainly teaching in non-vocational areas, and 12 staff at the nursery. This chapter will focus on two staff from the college, describing the specifics of their situation. (The two settings have been compared elsewhere, for example in Tusting 2012. For more detail on the Early Years site see Tusting 2010a.)

I will first outline the importance of literacy studies within linguistic ethnography. I will discuss the textually mediated nature of the contemporary social world, and the need to address this within the linguistic ethnographic enterprise. I will then draw on examples from the study data to illustrate the impact of audit society in participants' working lives.

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