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Date(s) - 23/10/2013
12:00 pm

Monash Asia Institute, Room H5.95, Building H

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 “The “strategic compartmentalisation” of employee identity: managing ethnic diversity in the luxury hotel industry in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia”

Speaker: Dr. Eric Olmedo  (University of Toulouse)

Monday 23 October 2013, 12.00pm 1.30pm, MAI Seminar Room, Building H Level 5, Monash University Caulfield Campus

The recipe of success for international hotel corporations lies mostly in the standardization of their products and services. Opening a new hotel overseas triggers human resource challenges, massive expatriation of staff not being an option for obvious cost reasons. The commonly used alternative is to shape the « offshore » organization into a platform tuned for top-down transfer of technology, an « anthropotechnological Island » to quote the term coined by Alain Wisner (Wisner, 1997). There are two departments within these luxury international hotels where transfer of knowledge and skills take a particularly direct and tangible form: food and beverage and kitchen. Acknowledging that these transfers physically occur in a plural society such as Malaysia, and given the fact – according to empirical observation- that skills are passed on from a western trainer to local employees, its seems a pertinent frame for anthropological analysis. Techniques involved are not a-cultural, as they embody other  “food social spaces” (Poulain, 2002) originally alien to Malaysia; i.e.: training on wine tasting, western cuisine or pastry techniques etc. The probable outcome of this diffusion of techniques is likely to be partial acculturation (Kroeber, 1948), the latter being declined in various forms: situationally, socially and psychologically. The initial hypothesis in this research is that the experience of acculturation is one of the main forces to shape identity formation in the workplace, in the given context. At the core of this diffusion process lies the sense of taste, in its gustative acceptance.  Being concurrently a cultural marker (Garine (de), 1979), and an identity catalyser (Tibère, 2009) I view taste as a powerful vessel for shaping employee identity in the multi-ethnic Malaysian workplace which is also part of a global luxury hotel chain.  The “principle of incorporation” developed by Claude Fischler (Fischler, 1990) shall be mobilized as a supplemental theoretical framework to analyze identity shifts or other observed reactions by cooks and food and beverage personnel. Finally, I analyze how Malaysian workers from various ethnic groups or social statuses use “strategic compartmentalization” as a coping mechanism to prevent cultural assimilation or to deal with the transgression of cultural and/or religious taboos which their hotel work entails. This paper are based on empirical data collected between 2008 and 2010, using qualitative methods including participant observation, in 5-star global chain hotels operating in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Eric Olmedo is a visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA), National University of Malaysia, seconded from the University of Toulouse, France. Until June 2013, he was Deputy-Director of the School of Hospitality, Tourism Management, and Food Studies at the University of Toulouse 2 le Mirail, France. Prior to joining academia he worked in the hospitality industry in France and Canada culminating in the position of Resident Manager in the 5-star Château Hotel near Paris. Subsequently, as a lecturer in Hospitality Studies he was sent to Chile by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to open hotel schools and design curricula. He then moved to Malaysia as Director of Studies at Taylor’s College (now Taylor’s University), School of Hospitality and Tourism (2002-2006). He has two Master Degrees in the Sociology of Organizations and Hospitality and Tourism Management, and a PhD in Sociology. He is a certified Wine Trainer and Assessor.

Enquiries and RSVP for catering: Dr Wendy Smith, Director, Centre for Malaysian Studies, Monash Asia Institute  wendy.smith@monash.edu by 21 October 2013.