The Office

Offices come in many shapes and sizes; from office buildings with small cubicles or large ‘office gardens’ where dozens of people work next to each other to neighbourhood cafes, flex spaces, and online collaborative environments. These spaces have been and are being reshaped by technological shifts and changing bureaucracies and economies. Clear examples of change in office spaces are the impromptu home offices that were set up in response to the COVID pandemic and the rise of ‘flex desks’ and ‘flex working spaces’ in many places that allow (and force) employees to become flexible with their time in the office and the space they work in, while simultaneously reducing company costs. There are diverse notions of what defines an office and what and who it should facilitate and in what ways. Such notions are often culturally informed and point at how governments, companies and/or employees categorize different kinds of work and where it should be carried out. Clean desks, make-shift room dividers in open offices and family photographs on flex desks further indicate how office users incorporate, play with, or resist prescribed rules for how office spaces should be used. This also opens up questions about public and private spaces and the role of the office, in any shape or form here. The office is also an environment full of social hierarchies and interactions that may be stimulating and fraught with tensions. Individual careers, team efforts, and business success can make the stakes of these interactions high.

To get insight in the diversity of office spaces, the people at work there, and the activities performed, we seek to explore a wide range of questions concerning the office in the upcoming issue of Etnofoor. What role do offices play in people’s lives? What ideas and ideals are at the root of how the spaces we work (whether online or offline) are designed, built, and used? What does this tell us about the activities of office dwellers as they are imagined by planners? How does this relate to the increasing digitalization of office life and work-at-home? How are notions of a ‘good work environment’ shaped and contested? How does the office relate to building formal and informal social relations, workplace politics, and everyday interactions among people who use them? And what role do the diverse social interactions at the office (board meetings, office e-mails, coffee machine chats, after work drinks, gossip etc.) play here?

For this issue of Etnofoor on The Office we welcome papers addressing these or other questions and that analyse the office through ethnographic fieldwork and/or methodological, theoretical, or practical perspectives to submit an abstract of no more than 200 words to editors@etnofoor.nl before November 1, 2021. We also welcome book or literature reviews and creative contributions (photo essays, comics). The deadline for authors of accepted abstracts to submit their full paper is February 1, 2022.