Accepted Paper:

"Business as usual": normalising crisis at home  


Jessica Lucas
Daniela Peluso (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

The paper describes how, at a local corporate fieldsite, a discourse of "returning to business as usual" is used to cope with an ongoing state of crisis. We examine how a series of mergers, acquisitions and redundancies generates practices that place contingency at the centre of daily routines.

Paper long abstract:

We most often recognise crisis when it is elsewhere or 'other' - particularly in the forms of warfare, natural disasters or forced migrations. Our fieldwork emphasizes how crisis should also be examined 'at home' where it is easily guised by the everyday practical survival skills of peoples and organisations, and becomes normalised to the extent that crises are no longer recognised as such.

This paper discusses how the everyday practices of workplace life at a corporation's local site mitigate against crises inherent to the industry and current economic recession, while also normalising such predicaments. In an industry known for its aggressive merger and acquisition strategies, most of which conclude in major restructuring and subsequent redundancies, the constant upheaval of workers fuels what has become a continuous state of crisis. With rising job insecurity, employees face workplace environments that have become increasingly unstable.

At our fieldsite, employees create routine practices for coping with the ways the company is continually restructured. Alongside formal practices (short-term budgets, accounting) and informal practices (composition of limited duration teams, collegiality), employees also invoke the myth of 'business as usual' as a coping mechanism. By envisioning 'business as usual' as a re-attainable 'steady state', however, they create a contradiction. While the quotidian presence of crisis is explained by the myth as 'temporary', it is employees' practices that instead reveal crisis to be 'a way of living'.

Panel W039
Producing the ordinary in the face of crisis