Becoming Savvy: Developing Awareness of Everyday Politics
Janssen, Jacqueline Jeannette Maria
This thesis explores the experiences of an educational project manager/team leader, and at some point job-seeker, mostly in foreign countries. The focus lies, in conclusion, on developing awareness of everyday politics, brought about mainly by a significant change in the understanding of three closely related concepts: culture, language and identity. The understanding of culture developed into a notion of culture of groups – part of complex networks of other groups – simultaneously formed by and forming interdependent people who are interrelating according to evolving/emerging, explicit/implicit customs, norms, values and ethics. The exploration of language revealed patterns of conversation, common to specific groups, allowing co-creation of significant symbols, of which appropriate use enabled communication, establishment and mutual recognition. Identity became recognised as a social construct – dynamically adapting to specific local circumstances (groups), to social acts, which it forms and is formed by at the same time. In researcher’s management practice and career-coaching-trajectory rather abstract and idealised text and talk describing people and/in organisations was encountered frequently, seemingly aimed at reducing the inevitable uncertainty that results from the complexity of human relating. Attention is paid to ways in which people speak and write about them-selves and/at work and how this influences the experience of self and/at work, which revealed a relation between abstract and idealised conversational patterns and impacted sense of self. The career-coaching experience in particular exposed how these conversational patterns in/and the strategic construction of ‘glossy’ identities (of organisations and people) do not reflect everyday perception of self and/at work, as work is developed in social interaction, of which meaning is negotiated and evolves through people’s differing intentions, expectations and emerging insights; through everyday politics. Becoming ‘politically savvy’, acquiring awareness of everyday politics, is necessary for our functioning in organisational life. The argument is that developing ‘political savvy’ – becoming self-conscious in complex organisational environments where strategically co-created idealised images of self, organisations and work are common practice – is increasingly taxing, as glossy identities ‘airbrush’ away the messiness of everyday work life. The challenge for managers is to endeavour to see beyond these images, explicit strategies and certain conversational patterns, and develop their ability to make sense – by reflecting and taking a reflexive stance – of what it is people are doing together. Taking seriously everyday experiences may provide choice, options to proceed, possibly to develop (trust in) ‘political savvy’, and may increase awareness of how people adapt, change and develop (in) social acts because of and despite this.