Subcontracting in Perth: an urban ethnography

Philip James Moore

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

    162 Downloads (Pure)


    [Truncated] Houses in Perth, Western Australia, are built and
    renovated by workers hired as subcontractors and known
    locally as 'subbies.' Subbies are independent, self-employed
    workers who are engaged only as their particular services
    are required rather than being the employees of builders who
    contract to do such work. In this thesis I examine the
    processes by which houses are built and renovated, 'cottage
    work,1 and the ways subbies interpret and understand their
    shared industry. This presentation takes form as an
    ethnographic analysis of the working lives of subbies in
    this sector of the building industry; it is not an account
    of the entire building industry in Western Australia.

    analysis of subcontracting in the Perth housing
    industry is an interpretive account which focuses on
    temporal aspects of social life. Subcontracting work
    produces what is best described as a labile social
    organisation: groups of individual workers come together as
    action sets, for particular purposes and for what are
    commonly quite short periods of time, and are not
    constituted as perduring social structures. "Subbies"
    identifies a category of individuals engaged in the same
    relationship to their respective work; it does not indicate
    the existence of a corporate group. In labile social
    organisations it is time, the temporality of making and
    breaking social relationships, which is analytically more
    significant than the space occupied by a culture or a
    society. The central analytical task in understanding labile
    social organisations addressed in this thesis is two-fold:
    (1) to identify the social distribution of understandings
    among those so engaged; and (2) to identify the social
    processes by which individuals organise and accommodate
    themselves to the often unknown others encountered. In
    adopting this processual approach to social analysis, the
    social organisation of culture, the symbols of shared
    understandings and knowledge, are all analysed as produced
    and reproduced in the diverse interactions constituting
    everyday social life rather than as existing, concrete
    "social facts."
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Western Australia
    Publication statusUnpublished - 1991

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