My research: ‘The Politics of Service Production’

My research aims to investigate the politics of service production in the UK hotel sector through exploring experiences of work, specifically with regard to labour processes and management. As service industries have come to dominate many advanced economies, studies of work have increasingly moved toward the areas of health, finance, and education. However, with few exceptions, hotels and restaurants remain under-researched areas in employment relations, especially given their growing importance to certain European economies. Hotels are the empirical focus of this study because they represent a microcosm of the variety of occupations that comprise service industries – from financial management to customer assistance, food preparation and room cleaning. There is a strong public interest in researching the experiences of work in hospitality. Hospitality is Britain’s fastest growing industry and currently the fourth largest industry by employment. However, it also has a higher rate of low-paid work than any other UK industry (BHA 2011). Much of this expansion is due to significant rises in tourism and migration to the UK in recent years. These factors may have profound consequences for the shape of the economy and work in the UK.

To understand the nature of work in hospitality industry, it is essential that research directly engages with workers themselves. The study therefore follows in the methodological tradition of widely-respected workplace ethnographies, which have produced classic texts by authors including Michael Burawoy (1979), Huw Beynon (1973), Glucksmann (1982), and Pollert (1981). Workplace ethnographies are an established method of data collection in this field and are essential for studying certain aspects of work. This approach can reveal nuances and complex social phenomenon, such as worker resistance, which conventional survey techniques and formal interviews typically fail to uncover.  The fieldwork for the research therefore entails an industry-wide survey in London based primarily upon participant observation and semi-structured interviews with workers and management. However, it also draws on a variety of other sources including academic literature on the service sector, Marxian political economy, and union archives. There are two stages to the research. The first involves ethnographic participant observation, while the second involves interviews with a cross section of workers and mangers. The research addresses the primary question: “How do labour processes shape the experience of work in UK hotels?” There are two secondary questions: “How does the labour contract mediate the politics of work in UK hotels?” and “How do labour processes and the politics of work in the hospitality sector reflect broader changes in the UK economy in the context of ‘deindustrialisation’?” Through addressing these questions, I plan to foreground key aspects of work in the hospitality industry, while connecting the politics and experiences of work to wider socio-economic dynamics of capitalism in the UK. The outcome of this research will be a detailed understanding of the politics of work and management for the lowest paid workers in the fastest growing industry by employment in the UK.


Beynon, H. (1985) Working for Ford, London: Pelican.

BHA (2011) Hospitality: driving local economies. A Report by the British Hospitality Association.

Burawoy, M. (1979) Manufacturing consent: changes in the labor process under monopoly capitalism, Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press.

Glucksmann, M. (1982) Women on the Line. Routledge, London.

Pollert, A. (1981) Girls, Wives, Factory Lives. Macmillan. London.

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