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Personalia and women’s spatial practices in the routine office

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posted on 2021-05-23, 12:59 authored by Lynn Chalmers
Office design is a contemporary cultural discourse, where space is conceived in abstract terms. Organizations mission and purpose are translated into the spatial design of workplaces. In the most dominant sectors such as finance and banking neoliberal organizations operate around the space of flows, generated by globalization, technology and postmodernity (Castells, 2000). The space of flows is also manifest in the spatial design of the workplace shaping employees’ working identities and behaviours. The dissertation asserts that there are two classes of office workers evolving in the workplace: the professional knowledge workers who are increasingly mobile and autonomous; and the routine clerical workers who are captive in a hegemonic system that keeps them doing clerical work with little prospect of promotion. It is significant that the clerical class is composed mostly of women. Personalia and Women’s Spatial Practices In The Routine Office examines the head offices of Investors Group in Winnipeg, Canada, in terms of how the company’s offices both reflect and generate spaces of flows. Women’s participation rates have grown from being a small minority in the 1900s to approximately 70% of the clerical workforce in the 2000s. Through microanalysis of previously unexamined personalia, or personal objects at the desk, the dissertation finds work spaces are expressive of women’s lived experiences of work. By conducting interviews and photographic studies of the workspaces of 11 women at Investors Group the research uncovers the ways women use the personalia at their desks to reappropriate the everyday spaces of the office. The identification of the term personalia becomes a key concept in the work and a contribution to the study of the close environment of the office desk. Social networks with co-workers, past and present are honored in the personalia at the desk; and tactics such as repurposing office supplies as gifts, along with numerous individual and heterogeneous behaviours demonstrate that routine work spaces are not neutral spaces, but are open to the expressive practices which de Certeau calls operations. The ways that women make space for themselves and push against the hegemony of the neoliberal organization are specific and instructive. They reflect women’s values and the identities crafted for public and private consumption. The research closely examines the practices of women in the financial services industry through the filter of Lefebvre’s trialectic for the analysis of space (1991), de Certeau’s ways of operating and tactics (1998), and Franck’s interpretation of Women’s Ways of Knowing (1989; 2000). The research demonstrates how personalia in the contemporary workplace reflects women’s values, and how women’s values have influenced the design of the workplace.





Doctor of Philosophy


Communication and Culture

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type