Like pigs to the slaughter? (adapted from J. M. Corbett, 1994)

Source: J. Martin Corbett (1994) Critical Cases in Organisational Behaviour, Palgrave, p. 232

I presented this cartoon to my students in one of our classes on the topics of power, politics, control and resistance. I asked them to interpret the picture and to answer the question: To what extent does the picture provide an apt metaphor for the way a) management and b) employees tend to relate to technological “progress” in a company?

Immediately I observed that many faces went blank and students began to look rather puzzled. I walked around and talked to some of them in order to find out what the matter is. I learned that many of them where rather unfamiliar with this type of exercise and therefore did not really know how to respond to the task. I was quite surprised since this class teaches students in Master programs and I assumed that they could easily handle the little exercise. However, it turned out, that many of them couldn’t.

So I began asking them to identify who in the picture represents the management and the employees. Next they should identify the technology and explain why it is new. Some had difficulties understanding that when you plug the male connector to a socket, electricity flows from the socket into the plug. Hence, the new technology did not suggest electrocuting the pic instead of using for example a knife (which would perhaps be the old technology), like a few suggested. Rather, instead of slaying the pics, which would be the expected technology in a slaughterhouse, the new technology suggested that its life is now exhausted bit by bit. This is of course only one way of interpreting the picture but it could help us to understand why the pig apparently does not appreciate what is happening.

Even if students understood this, they struggled to transfers the insight to the world of work. I asked them to think about employees being confronted with new technology implemented by management and it took a while until answers such as:

  • the management may introduce new technology as a sophisticated way to exploit employees,
  • the plug and the circumstance that one becomes connected by the cable also means to be more easily monitored and controlled,
  • the angry look of the pic as expression that employees are aware of the consequences that new technology might have for their work, and
  • the management as the group that has the final word with regard to which technology is introduced and why and how this is done.

I suggest using this little exercise and ask your students to make associations. Perhaps they will less struggle with interpreting the picture.

 

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