Moved by relocation : Professional identification in the decentralization of public sector jobs in Sweden

Sammanfattning: During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Swedish civil service underwent some extensive changes, such as the relocations of public sector jobs, initiated by the government in 2005. This thesis follows an ethnological tradition of focusing on employees’ perspectives as a way of exploring power relations and changes in society. In this study, I draw attention to the fears, joys, anxieties, hopes, and dreams of employees in the Swedish civil service at a time when their workplace was being relocated from one city to another.The study especially focuses on the fact that a decision to relocate initiates processes that change employee’s images of their work life and future. They become forced to rethink life and work and re-identify with professional positions. Such processes are described in this thesis as processes of professional identification.The aim of the study is to analyze professional identification among employees during the relocation of a government agency. It is based on four articles that highlight different aspects of the relocation and the conditions under which research was conducted. The overarching question that runs through the thesis is: what did processes of professional identification mean in relocation practice?I argue that such processes should be taken into account as pivotal to civil service practices such as relocation work. Such knowledge could also be used as a tool for thinking about work life change in a wider sense. Because relocations entail moving people’s entire lives, points of interest are formulated that tell stories of how social norms and rules are formed, maintained,and contested. The results in this thesis could also serve as a departure for discussing the localization of knowledge-intensive institutions.The case study builds on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between 2005 and 2009 at a government agency that moved from the capital of Sweden to a smaller town in the north of Sweden. The ethnographic source material was analyzed using discourse analysis.The analysis centres on a discussion of how processes of professional identification became conditioned by social structures in terms of gender, age, and social class in relocation work. I furthermore discuss the ways in which images of geographies and emotions could be regarded as social categories that conditioned professional identities and had implications for how the move of the agency was organized and conducted, for example for the transferring of competency, travelling on business, and setting up new work practices. The establishment of professional identity positions functioned to stabilize the social environment during the move - a time when many things at work seemed to be in turmoil. At the same time the positions worked to privilege some ways of professional identification and exclude others. Attention should be drawn to the ways in which agency staff became enmeshed in power structures, norms, ideals, images, and plans for the future that limited their actions in various ways. It is therefore important that the features of professional identification in this relocation process should be further discussed, not primarily as individual concerns of particular individuals, or even a particular agency or location, but as a vital issue of the greatest concern to the welfare state.

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