Fiat, OIivetti and Other Italian Settings


This is the most detailed study of the ‘Interview to the Double’ including some of the accounts produced in this process.


Alquati sets out a very comprehensive set of approaches to inquiry from problem formulation through research design to analysis which he calls ‘Co-Research’.

Important elements here include the need to engage with the dominant methods and discourses used not just by social scientists but by management – in Per fare conricerca he takes Herbert Simon’s textbook on management as a starting point.

The argument is that to engage with management you have to understand their thinking, critique it and take it on by offering counter-programmes and counter discourses.


From Oddone et al. (1977), also cited in Nicolini (2009), from workers at FIAT

I work on the assembly line, I assemble the gearbox of the 132: it is a hanging line, a large oval ring where there are several pendants hanging. The pieces run on tracks and pass in front of all the workers: the first starts to assemble the first part, the last discharges the finished piece … I start by fitting a corteco [gasket] which I need to grease first on the inside and smear with airtight on the outside. I fit it on the back with a battoir [tool to secure parts without damaging them] and a hammer and then I take an air screwdriver and tight the nuts and bolt on the back of the gearshift … If a double was to substitute me and he didn’t work here before, the procedure would be the following: first …

Note that here the tendency to provide instructions for a generic worker.  The significance of the ‘battoir’ here is that this is an example of a specific practice that anyone not familiar with the process would probably not know about - the ‘double’ would be found out if they just tried to wallop the gasket with a hammer to get it on.  Similarly not knowing that the gasket is referred to as a 'corteco' (the manufacturer's name used for the product, like 'Hoover') would be a giveaway.

Another interesting insight that might come out of this discussion is whether workers own their own tools. In some settings workers often have their own equipment (either the whole kit, or specific pieces like the battoir mentioned here; likewise chefs have their own knives, sailors have marlinspikes, mechanics their own spanners and so on - even if they are employed by someone else).  Whether this is expected, tolerated or discouraged by employers is also a line of enquiry here.  There are some settings where use of personal equipment is positively discouraged - use of personal electronic devices, for example.

From the same worker’s account in Oddone et al. (1977):

“I organize all the equipment that can save me from injuries, small cuts, etc. For example, the tripod has the ground part protected with a plastic cup.”

A good example of craft knowledge and a personal practice developed to allow safe working, quite possibly not sanctioned by management but essential knowledge for the ‘double’.

Some of these practices involve collaboration with other workers:

“Working by oscillation - one of the tricks invented by the group - this consists of working at a fast pace - all together go up the assembly line for four - six pendants (cars under assembly) and then stop, go for a drink, light a cigarette, etc. To implement this, we must not only be in agreement, but also be capable and fast.”

This was not sanctioned by management but would be essential knowledge for the double if they are to be able to work successfully with their team.

From a healthcare setting, described by Nicolini (2009):

“You report to work at 8am. You go to the cardiology ward and put on your uniform. You wear a white coat and clogs. In your coat pocket you put a ruler to measure the width of the ECG curves, a pen, a pencil, a highlighter, a small notebook or an agenda (or check that they are there). A coat pocket full of instruments and rulers is the hallmark of cardiology practitioners.”

Again, specific practices which are the ‘hallmark’ of the practitioner.

From Oddone et al. (1977) again:

“I work the normal hours (7.45-12.00; 12.40-16.15), I wake up quite late, it's something I have to overcome, get up a little earlier in the morning to be a little quieter when I go to the factory. If you arrive late at the factory, you have a lousy day, if instead you read a bit of the newspaper first, you are more prepared … Then you have to arrive in time to post a page of the «Unity», a press release, on the bulletin board …  In the morning, near the coffee machine, if you haven't done it before at the counter because you are late, or even if you have already done so, you take out "l'Unità", you read it there, while maybe ten or twelve workmates look, discuss, talk about a lot of things, hear what people say, the impressions of the morning.”

Getting to work early to get prepared and organise.  Not in the form of instructions, though.

“When it is noon you go up, take the soap and go wash; then, go eat: some workers (not all) who have in the drawer (in that part of the drawer all of their own) a rag that looks like a towel, and have soap or a paste to wash. You will see that these will always be the first to be at the table to eat, and you discover that ten minutes, a quarter of an hour before the work is off and the bell rings, these ones already have their hands washed.”

Workers at FIAT making the most of their lunch break.  This kind of information would allow the double to replicate the practice of the respondent, and probably get to their preferred lunch table with their colleagues.


Oddone et al, 2008.pdf1907.7KB