This chapter has examined something of the warp and weft that give the tapestry its basic form, pattern, colour and texture. To complete our understanding of the context of HRM we need to recognise that issues and people constitute the surface stitching that is drawn through the warp and weft to add further pattern and colour. You will be aware of examples from your own experience and the reading of this and other books, but we can instance the influences of recession, equal opportunities legislation, European directives, management gurus, Margaret Thatcher, ‘New Labour’, the euro debate, 11 September, that resonate with the warp and weft to produce the pattern that has come to be known as ‘HRM’.
The tapestry of which HRM forms a part is continuously being woven, but we can now become aware of the sources of the differing approaches to organisation and management and of the contesting voices about the management of people. We can now recognise that their contest weaves multiple meanings into the organisational and conceptual pattern which is HRM. However, this awareness also allows us to recognise that yet other meanings, and hence potentials for the management of the employment relationship, remain to be constructed.
By pointing to the need to recognise the significance of the context of HRM, this chapter is also acknowledging that you will find therein more interpretations than this book of ‘academic text’ (Parker and Shotter, 1990: see ‘Discourse’ earlier), shaped by its writers’ own agendas and values and the practicalities of commercial publication, can offer you. The process both of writing and of publication is that of decontextualisation, fragmentation, standardisation, and presentation of knowledge as ‘entertaining education’, in bite-sized chunks of knowledge or sound bites.
But by urging you to become aware of the context of HRM, this chapter is at the same time inviting you to look beyond what it has to say, to recognise the nature of its discourse or, rather, discourses, to challenge its assumptions (and, indeed, your own) and to use your own critical judgements informed by your wider reading and personal experience. This, then, is why this book has begun its exploration of HRM by examining context. This chapter had a further aim (and this betrays this writer’s ‘agenda and values’).
This is to orientate your thinking generally towards an awareness of context, to think contextually, for ultimately awareness of context is empowering. One of the outcomes could well be greater knowledge but less certainty, the recognition that there could be competing interpretations of the topic you are considering, that the several perspectives upon the area could all yield different conclusions. Attention to context, therefore, encourages us not to be taken in by our initial interpretations, nor to accept unquestioningly the definitions of reality that others would have us adopt (the ‘hegemony’ of the previous section).
There are, however, no easy answers, and we have to make the choice between alternatives. Reality is much messier and more tentative than theory and, like ‘everyday talk’, it is ‘marked by its vagueness and openness’, its meaning open to interpretation through negotiation with others. The acceptance of this, however, as we shall later see in Chapter, is one of the marks of the mature learner: the ability to recognise alternative viewpoints but, nevertheless, to take responsibility for committing oneself to one of them.
By definition, one chapter cannot begin to portray the details of the context of HRM. Those, after all, are constantly changing with time. It will have achieved its purpose if it causes you to recognise the significance of context and the need to adopt ways of thinking that enable you to conceptualise it. It can point you in some directions, and you will find many others in the chapters that follow, but there are no logical starting points, because context is indivisible; and you will never reach the end of the story for, from the perspective of context, the story is never-ending.
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