Work Liminality and Liminality Competence: a study of mobile project workers
2012 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
This thesis is about people engaged in project-based work, a work context that is becoming increasingly common since more and more firms are relying on project-based forms of organization. More specifically, the thesis deals with a specific condition arising in projectbased work, namely that of ‘work liminality’. The thesis aims at enhancing the understanding of work liminality and of individuals who hold liminal positions. More specifically it aims to investigate how liminality could be understood in the context of project-based work, what practices project workers rely on to deal with work liminality. The thesis also deals with how project workers perceive their work and what competencies they have in relation to their perceptions.
The concept of liminality stems from anthropology, in which it denotes a transition phase from one social position to another, e.g. the transition from being a boy to becoming a man. The notion of liminality has been brought into organization studies to depict a position of ambiguous belonging and temporality. It has been used to describe the position for e.g. contingent workers, who simultaneously work and affiliate with different firms and work in temporary assignments. This thesis, however, focuses on liminality in project-based work, and it introduces the notion of ‘work liminality’ to describe a specific work situation with inherent organizational ambiguity and transiency. Project workers hold a liminal position since they simultaneously belong to a line division and one or several projects, and moreover, projects are time-limited, and can be viewed as a transition for the individual, who continuously moves from one project to the next. In that respect, project-based work constitutes a particularly interesting empirical context for the study of work liminality, and compared to other liminality situations, this context has received relatively little scholarly attention in previous research.
The study presented in this thesis focuses on a particular kind of mobile project worker, namely technical consultants. These are workers who move from project to project, often across client organizations, on a continuous basis. They thus work under liminal conditions, both in terms of having several organizational belongings, and in terms of continuously switching assignments. The thesis is based on altogether 37 interviews, 13 narrative weekly diaries written under a period of three months and a number of workshops and both formal and informal meetings, mainly with technical consultants but also with managers at one of Scandinavia’s leading technical consultancy firms (which is anonymous in the thesis).
Based on how liminality has been used in previous organization studies it is rather unclear what it implies, the more objective liminal position and how this is perceived by individuals who hold it, is not clearly separated in these studies. This thesis therefore suggests the analytical distinction between on the one hand ‘work liminality’, as a work situation in which the individual holds a position that is characterized by organizational ambiguity and transiency, and on the other hand how work liminality is experienced by people who engage in it. Results from this study indicate that mobile project workers experience work liminality largely in two types of situations, one primarily technical and the other foremost social. Moreover it indicates that individuals approach these situations, here denoted as social and technical liminality, either actively or passively. This leads to the proposition that the mobile project workers rely on predominantly four different ‘liminality practices’ to deal with social and technical liminality, namely ‘reputation reliance’, ‘role carving’, ‘relaxation’ and ‘redefinition’. Furthermore, an interpretative approach is used to study mobile project workers’ ‘liminality competence’. The empirical investigation shows three different conceptions of work held by the mobile project workers: ‘work as assignment handling’, ‘work as a learning platform’ and ‘work as knowledge transfer’, which are linked to three levels of liminality competence, respectively. Liminality competence concerns how the mobile project workers deal with working in a position of work liminality, while liminality practices rather concerns how the mobile project workers deal with specific situations that arises due to work liminality.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2012. , 62 p.
FiF-avhandling - Filosofiska fakulteten – Linköpings universitet, ISSN 1401-4637 ; 105
Liminality, Work liminality, Mobile Project Workers, Technical consultants, Project-Based Work, Competence
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-73976OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-73976DiVA: diva2:479563
2012-01-25, Sal A30, A-huset, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, 13:15 (Swedish)
Ekstedt, Eskil, Professor
Söderlund, Jonas, ProfessorBredin, Karin, Dr.
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