The aim of these two modules (223 and 224), which can be taken both separately as well as in combination (which we strongly advise), is to understand how the elementary functions of HRM unfold, and why they do so in certain ways nowadays compared to, say, thirty years ago.
At one level, HRM seems very simple: it is a combination of (a) recruitment and selection, (b) control and motivation, (c) training and development, (d) strategy and planning. It is a function which mediates between organisations and people. How complicated can that be? The answer is that it is as complicated as the central objects of such practices – the human and work – are: namely, extremely complicated.
The reason HRM is endlessly complicated (i.e. there never is an end to the central question to which it has to answer, namely what is work?) lies in the simple fact that the relationship between work as effort and efficiency as the rationality of work is always indeterminate. How much is an hour of work worth? How much should I be paid so that work is ‘fair’, or ‘just’? These essential questions cannot be answered in themselves – they depend on an endless list of other crucial questions – such as, what is it that I have to do? For what should I be paid? What counts as the work that is covered by an employment contract? Where does effort begin and end? What does it mean for instance to be committed to one’s job, company, or team – in terms of effort? How do we account for sentiments in work? What does it mean to be creative, or innovative? Are these part of the employment contract? How much commitment is one contracted to feel?
These and all the other aspects of HRM have become its language and the objects of its practices; human work and human being have become entangled in management in very complicated forms in the last thirty years. You will be the subjects of these practices and will have to understand what is going on in them and how the simple question what is worth doing in the context of contemporary work? is asked and answered today.
This means that HR practices in contemporary organisations (private, public, large or small) can only be understood if you will understand something much more fundamental, much more profound and much more enabling: the cultural conditions and resources that make these practices possible at all. You will need to understand how these practices are structured from a cultural viewpoint, from the point of view of the social imaginaries that make them possible.