Structure and agency in bargaining: practice, routines, truce, and individual differences

Petersen, Bui K. (2018) Structure and agency in bargaining: practice, routines, truce, and individual differences. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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This thesis uses a practice theoretical lens to examine the social process of negotiation, particularly in the context of union-management negotiations. The use of a practice lens helps address some fundamental gaps in the existing negotiation and industrial relations literatures, where the focus generally is only on either the micro (behavioural) or macro (structural) aspects of negotiations. Furthermore, most empirical research on negotiation behaviour has tended to separate the negotiations from their natural context. Therefore, we have very limited knowledge about the interactions between behaviour, process, practice, and structure. In this thesis, I use the practice theoretical approach, generally referred to as strategy-as-practice. This approach emphasizes the need to see all behaviour as socially situated, and practices as instrumental in the maintenance of structures. Therefore, it helps address the micro-macro divide, especially in terms of the tension between agency and structure. For my investigation, I chose to examine multiple cases of collective agreement negotiations within a small Nordic jurisdiction. I used a qualitative grounded theory approach that included a) observations of bargaining meetings; b) interviews with negotiators; and c) archival sources, such as meeting reports, collective agreements, email correspondence, and news media. The theoretical model that emerged from my findings suggests that collective bargaining is a highly routinized process that produces a truce. On the one hand, this truce provides stability and reduces volatility in industrial relations; on the other, it induces rigidity and inertia, significantly reducing the ability of individual negotiators to influence process and outcomes. However, this model also suggests that individual negotiators do have some individual agency in shaping outcomes, albeit marginally. More importantly, the model shows the critical role negotiators play in enacting and maintaining the routine truce through practice. The thesis also examines the sources for the varying degrees of agency individual negotiators demonstrated, including individual skills, experience, education, cognition, relationships, as well as the status of the occupation they represent.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 13255
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 192-214).
Keywords: Negotiation, collective bargaining, conflict management, industrial relations, strategy-as-practice, organizational routines, qualitative methods
Department(s): Business Administration, Faculty of > Business Administration
Date: May 2018
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Industrial relations -- Social aspects; Collective bargaining -- Social aspects

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