Hanging Tongues

Topics: Structure, Sociology, Assembly line Pages: 4 (1313 words) Published: May 6, 2010
In the article “Hanging Tongues: A Sociological Encounter with the Assembly line” Thompson (1983) there are many connections between the Physical structure of the beef processing plant and the social structure of those working within it. The layout, design and decor of the beef plant both directly and metaphorically impact on the social structure within the plant, pertaining to (among other examples) a sense of isolation, hierarchies, formalisation and standardisation.

The physical layout of the beef processing plant appears to be similar to many other assembly line factories, the ‘kill floor’ as Thompson refers to it, being a large open space with work stations located around the area. Thompson describes an “Overhead stainless steel rail... curved its way around every work station in the plant.” We see that although physically all the different work stations on the ‘kill floor’ are connected, the connection is mechanical, part of the layout of the factory. Despite the open plan space in the factory there is much isolation among the workers, even though they are all working on the same production line. Although most workers know each other on sight, it is unlikely that they would know more than first names due to the nature of the work they are doing. Each worker on Thompson’s ‘offal’ station was expected to handle 187 tongues per hour, plus cleaning of racks and trays. This is quite a high work rate and there is little time for small-talk with co-workers. This rate required from workers creates a division between the workers who have little time to stop, besides designated breaks and management who seemingly ‘sit behind their desks all day’.

Also concerned with the layout of the factory was the separation of the ‘kill floor’ with the executive offices. This layout in the factory underlines the hierarchy of the social structure within the plant. At the bottom of the ladder we have the workers. They work on the ‘kill floor’ which is the...

References: Hatch, M.J. (with Cunliffe, A) (2006). Organisation Theory: modern, symbolic, postmodern perspectives. (2nd Ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Morgan, G. (1998). Images of organisation: The executive edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage pp 3-13.
Thompson, W.E. (1983). Hanging Tongues: A sociological encounter with the assembly line. Qualitative Sociology 6 (3), 215-237.
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