Name and named

The study reported in the paper concerns the experiences of employees whose company aims to change its working conditions in some fundamental way. The need for doing so may stem from changes in the market, in technology or otherwise. Companies may wish to respond by reducing their activities or expanding them. This means that employees may no longer be able to do the work they once were contracted for. They leave the company or face changes in the organisational structure. The focus of this paper is on the way employees react to such changes, in particular when still employed, whether temporarily or in the long term. Of particular interest is the possibility that they attempt to change the way their managers behave, for example to resist uncalled for impositions or to increase their contribution to the advancement of their company.

The interest in this aspect of planned change is relatively unusual. Most studies on organisational change concentrate on the overall behaviour of companies and their strategies and tend to neglect people’s experiences. For example, Flood (1990: 16) describes how he 'liberated' (his actual word) 6,000 of a company’s 10,000 employees. No word is spent on the impact of his actions on the lives of the employees (Goffman 1959). He also does not refer to any attempt employees may make (in particular those not immediately leaving) to contribute to the company’s continuation. It seems safe, however, to assume that there were such contributions.

The first question that arises is how to describe what was left out in such studies—as a useful step in an attempt to understand what employees experience when their organisations change and to make it possible to use this understanding in similar organisations. It requires naming the experiences. Comte (1854) saw such naming as the aim of social scientists: to find a name (or model or theory) to some named (domain, modelled or data). He emphasised, however, that something else is necessary. It should be possible to use the name to recognise the named—a criterion that has become standard in most what is defined as research (Popper 1980; Rorty 1991). This raises the second question: what type of name will allow this to happen. The two types of names (one as an answer to the first question, one to the second) need not be the same. The first often is referred to as data, i.e. as the names of individual behaviour, whilst the second is considered theorising or modelling. Without being able to name both ways, i.e. twofold, it will not be possible to profit from the experiences of employees and, for example, recognise whether what happens is as intended. An example of this kind of naming is a map—as a name of names (data), i.e. as a way to recognise new events as related to old events. It has been said that such a map (or name) is ‘not the territory’ (Kotarbinski 1990) and that there is more to a map than what it describes. It helps individuals to recognise territories they have not visited yet—via the systematised use of the experiences of others.

In many areas of study, names are part of a language (Quine 1970). Sometimes a single language seems to suffice—for example the language of variables in the natural sciences (where names mainly refer to variables). The social sciences appear to differ in this respect. It has become necessary to identify more than one language—as detailed in the next section. In the rest of the paper, an attempt is made to identify a name (of named data) for the experiences focused on. It is proposed to use the notion of presence. This notion will be linked to qualitative data, i.e. answers to questions about people’s experiences. This requires solving a special problem. Such data do not allow for a ‘twofold’ name. It proved necessary to use an intermediate name, in this case that of a story (linking a number of stages), as a way to help recognise individual strategies to ‘increase presence’.