Author Archives: Chris Prener

A few days ago, I wrote about the ways in which the unemployment rate ‘hides’ the reality of unemployment. Yesterday, the Associated Press put out a story about long term unemployment that captures some of the daily struggles of several individuals who have been without work for some time. It was picked up by quite a few major newspapers, including the Washington Post. If you have not already seen the article, I highly encourage you to check it out.

Andras Tilcsik is a Ph.D. candidate in Organizational Behavior at Harvard University. His paper, “Pride and Prejudice: Employment Discrimination against Openly Gay Men in the United States” won the 2011 James D. Thompson Award from the Organizations, Occupations, and Work section of the American Sociological Association and was recently published in the American Journal of Sociology.  The following (after the jump) is the text of an interview recently conducted with Andras by Rachel Gorab, a Ph.D. student in the sociology program at Northeastern University.

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Last week saw the release of monthly employment data by the Labor Department. At face value, the overall news was good – the unemployment rate in the United States, at approximately 8.6%, is at its lowest projected level in years. However, as a recent op-ed in The Economist noted, the state of the union remains dire. Much of the malaise can be felt within the ostensibly improving American job market, where in spite of some good news there are plenty of reasons to remain cautious.

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Photo via Improv Everywhere 

The photo above, of an Abercrombie model posing with customers, embodies the sociological concept of aesthetic labor. Sociologists have been particularly interested in this phenomenon, which is the inclusion of an employee’s ‘look’ or ‘feel’ into the workplace. In many places, including some elements of the retail industry and the modeling industry, being a good or desirable employee is defined not just by the skill with which work is done, but also by the aesthetic qualities of employee.

We are posting a three part commentary today discussing the phenomenon of aesthetic labor. The initial post by Ashley Mears describes her work as a model in New York City’s fashion industry. The second post, by Emily Cummins, describes aesthetic labor, gender and the wedding industry. Finally, we are pleased to feature some commentary by Jeff Sallaz on the concept of aesthetic labor itself.

Photo via Improv Everywhere

This response is posted on behalf of Jeff Sallaz.

The idea of aesthetic labor is a fascinating one.  What does it mean to get paid to create beauty?  A beautician by definition engages in aesthetic labor, but so too does an avante-garde film-maker.  Are we justified to compare what happens in a hair salon with what occurs in a movie studio?   In both cases we find work that is extremely difficult to routinize or mechanize.  (Are you a Flowbee user?  Nuff said.)  And in both cases we find that acts of production and consumption are united in a way that complicates Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism (witness the cult of the auteur).

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Photo: Keri Wiginton

We are posting a three part panel today discussing the concept of edgework, a term used by sociologists to describe activities that involve an element of risk. The initial post by Jeffrey L. Kidder describes his research on bike messengers and his thoughts on work in dangerous or risky situations. We also are pleased to feature two responses to Jeff’s post. Jen Lois, who has researched wilderness search and rescue volunteers, and Ben Fincham, who has also researched bike messengers, both offer their thoughts on edgework and Jeff’s piece. Enjoy!

It’s been just over one month since we launched and we’re tremendously happy with the response to the blog so far. We hope that you, our readers, have enjoyed reading the posts as much as we have. We’d like to take a moment to share with you some of the ways that you can participate with us in on our blog.

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Both occupations and organizations are the subject of the latest version of the American Sociological Review (ASR), the flagship journal of our parent organization the American Sociological Association (ASA). The issue includes “Professional Role Confidence and Gendered Persistence in Engineering” (Erin Cech, Brian Rubineau, Susan Sibley, and Caroll Seron), which introduces the concept of professional role confidence to help explain the persistence of gender barriers in STEM professions. They argue that women have on average lower levels of confidence in their ability to fulfill professional roles. They find that women’s relative lack of professional role confidence explains some of the attrition of women from STEM occupations.

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This past August, the Organizations, Occupations and Work section honored a number of academic works during the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Weber Award, traditionally given to a significant contribution to the literature by a book, was awarded to Martin Ruef of Princeton University. Ruef’s book The Entrepreneurial Group: Social Identities, Relations and Collective Action (Princeton University Press, 2010), takes to task the assumptions that underlie many previous studies of entrepreneurship. The Weber Award committee (Mary Blair-Loy, Elizabeth Gorman and William Finley) note that they believe “this book will redefine how entrepreneurship is studied in the future.”

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