Organisational change and resistance : an oral history of the rundown of a long-stay institution for people with learning difficulties

Ingham, Nigel William (2012). Organisational change and resistance : an oral history of the rundown of a long-stay institution for people with learning difficulties. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis explores the rundown process of one large long-stay hospital for people with learning difficulties in the north west of England during the later years of the twentieth century. It does this through a multi-voiced account which draws on oral history interview and documentary data relating to managers, staff and relatives. This polyphonic approach, focused upon those who had agency in the rundown of the institution, enables an in-depth examination of the processes and meanings of such an immense organisational change.

The research found that the contraction of the Royal Albert Hospital, Lancaster was a complex process, involving high levels of managerial acumen, compassion and enthusiasm. However, although presented by those implementing change as being predicated upon sound ethical and ideological principles, the study also indicated that this institutional rundown was shaped significantly by a neo-liberal agenda bound up with imperatives of logistics and cost. Tensions and contradictions associated with the latter were partly reflected in the viewpoints of staff and families who were critical of elements of the policy and practice of organisational downsizing. The oral history data in particular suggests, however, that these oppositional perspectives were discredited and distanced within the constraints of a dominant organisational narrative which espoused the absolute rightness of institutional closure. Furthermore, this ethically infused rhetoric underplayed the negative impact of the rundown on employees as they experienced insecurities associated with the loss of a meaningful and, in many instances, long-standing workplace.

The research contributes to the literature on the social history of learning disability,especially pertaining to institutional closures and deinstitutionalisation; organisational studies (the management of change); deindustrialisation; and oral history methodology.

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