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New book

disrupted

by Benjamin H. Snyder

The twenty-first century workplace compels Americans to be more flexible. To embrace change, work with unpredictable schedules, be available 24/7, and take charge of one’s own career. What are the wider implications of these pressures for workers’ lives? How do they conceive of good work and a good life amid such incessant change?

In my recently published book, The Disrupted Workplace, I consider these questions in light of three groups of American workers—financial professionals, truck drivers, and unemployed job seekers. I look at how they construct moral order in a capitalist system that demands flexibility.

Based on seventy in-depth interviews and three years of participant observation, I argue that the flexible economy transforms how workers experience time. New scheduling techniques, employment strategies, and technologies disrupt the flow and trajectory of working life, which makes the workplace a site of perplexing moral dilemmas. Work can feel both liberating and terrorizing, engrossing in the short term but unsustainable in the long term.

The book contributes to conversations about the human costs of flexible and precarious work by examining how both high and low status workers construct moral order within workplaces and careers that are chaotic and shifting.

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fridmanby Daniel Fridman

Donald Trump’s recent resistance to cutting ties with his personal businesses suggests that he is unconcerned by the appearance that he may benefit financially from being president of the United States. His appeal as a billionaire, and his ability to use his wealth as an asset with voters of vastly different economic means, helps explain his lack of concern.

How did Donald Trump, a billionaire who lives in a Manhattan penthouse full of golden furniture and travels by private jet to his Mar-a-Lago mansion, manage to connect with vast swaths of the U.S. electorate?

One key to understanding Trump’s allure is his experience in the wildly popular financial self-help circuit. As a book author and a well-paid speaker, Trump learned a thing or two about the “common folk” who aspire to financial freedom and who revere the rich people who are “out of the rat race.” It was in this world that Trump perfected his charismatic performance in front of live audiences who were unhappy with their financial lives and sought change.

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by Heather A. Haveman

How did a magazine industry emerge in the United States in the eighteenth century, where there were once only amateur authors, clumsy technologies for production and distribution, and sparse reader demand?  Why would anyone launch a magazine-publishing venture under such circumstances?  What legitimated magazines as they competed with other media, such as newspapers, books, and letters?  And what role did magazines play in the integration or division of American society?

My new book, Magazines and the Making of America, investigates how, over a 120-year period, magazines and groups they connected ushered America into the modern age.  It reveals how magazines fundamentally transformed the nature of community in America.  The signature modernizing talent of magazines, like other media, is to connect people – to literally mediate between them, to facilitate frequent interactions between them even when they are geographically dispersed and would otherwise never meet face to face.

Magazines in this era supported many distinct, cohesive, translocal communities – collections of people with common interests, values, principles, ideas, and identities who were often situated far away from each other.  As America became socially differentiated, magazines engaged and empowered diverse communities of faith (in a burgeoning number of religious groups), communities of purpose (in a wide array of social-reform movements), and communities of practice (in commerce, agriculture, and specialized occupations such as medicine and law).

Religious groups could distinguish themselves from others and demarcate their identities.  Social-reform movements could energize activists across the country to push for change.  People in specialized occupations could meet and learn from one another to improve their practices.  But countering their modernizing effects, magazines also supported many communities of place, which embodied traditional localistic reactions to the rise of modern translocal communities.

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by Tessa Wright

Women have entered the labour market in huge numbers in recent decades and now match men’s levels of participation in many previously male-dominated occupations such as law and medicine. Yet in sectors such as construction and transport, there has been very little change in the gender balance in the UK, with women accounting for just 1% of those in the manual trades, 12% of professional construction jobs, and around a fifth of those in transport occupations.

One of the reasons why this matters is simple – pay. As I document in my recent book, Gender and Sexuality in Male-Dominated Occupations, Liz was one of several women who chose to go into bus driving because “with a male-oriented job you get male-oriented pay.”

In choosing traditionally male work over less-well paid female-dominated retail or caring occupations, these women were challenging the common pattern of segregation of women and men into different occupations, which is one of the primary causes of the persistent gender pay gap (on average women still receive 9% less than men’s hourly pay, or 19% less when part timers are included).

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The Lusty Lady peep show in San Francisco (Wikimedia Commons)

by Gregor Gall

The Lusty Lady peepshow, based in San Francisco, was the pinnacle of the achievements of the global sex worker unionisation phenomenon. Between 1997 and 2013, union recognition, collective bargaining and job control existed under conventional management and then under cooperative ownership (when the establishment closed due to financial pressures).  Its peculiarity in comparison to the vast majority of other sex workers highlights the broad and substantial nature challenges for sex worker unionisation.

The exotic dancers at the Lusty Lady were employed, paid a minimum wage and not in direct contact with customers. The imports of these were they could use the certification law to gain union recognition (which self-employed workers cannot), they were not in competition with each other as other dancers usually are for customers and the Service Emlployees International Union was amenable to helping organise them given it did not have to practice ‘open source’ unionism to do so.

Furthermore, the Lusty Lady attracted a certain kind of dancer, namely, politically progressive women, and the establishment was a peepshow and not a lapdancing or strip club where clients have more influence over dancer performances.

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Image by the author.

Image by the author.

by Rina Agarwala

Since the 1980s, as governments have reduced state welfare rhetoric and policy, the proportion of unprotected, “informal” workers has increased. As a result, we have witnessed an unexpected increase in the proportion of the world’s workers who do not receive secure wages or social benefits either from employers or the state. This is not news. In recent years, many scholars and policy makers have highlighted this growing population of unprotected workers, variously calling them “informal”, “precarious”, “casual”, “non-standard”, “Post-Fordist”, and “flexible.” In some cases, these trends are celebrated; in others, they are critiqued.

What explains the worldwide increase in informal employment? The most common explanation is that the pressures of increased competition in a globalized and liberalized marketplace have forced firms to decrease costs by relying on unprotected workers. While this is true, it is equally important to remember that informal work is not a product of neoliberalism. Long before the rise of neoliberalism, informal labor comprised a large section of the labor force in the Global South, because they subsidized the minority of formally employed, protected workers that emerged during the industrialization era (in the South and North).

Informal workers have long been, and not surprisingly continue to be, a central, structural feature of modern economies. After all, it is informal workers that have and continue to (albeit in increasing numbers) construct our buildings, build our roads, grow and sell fruits and vegetables, clean homes and streets, sew clothes, weld car parts, and make shoes – not to mention the boxes they come in.

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Black libraryby Melissa E. Wooten

Earlier this year, South Carolina State University became a national topic of conversation. PBS, NPR, and the New York Times each ran stories documenting the school’s financial woes and the resulting tumult. The South Carolina House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Higher Education proposed to shut down the state’s only publicly supported historically black university because the school was in debt to the tune of $11 million.

The university’s trustees voted to place the school’s president on administrative leave, alumni protested, and ultimately, South Carolina legislators did not close the school.

The fact that casual observers mostly hear about historically black colleges and universities in moments of crises adds fuel to the fire of those that wonder “Are black colleges still necessary?” More than any other, this is the question I was asked as I researched, discussed, and wrote about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

A consequence of living in a multi-cultural society that purports to value diversity is that we are suspicious of black colleges. At a fundamental level, the question, “Are black colleges still necessary?” implies that it is easy to identify the value in some colleges – those that are predominantly white – but not those that are predominantly black.

HBCUs play a critical role in the production of highly educated, successful black Americans. Though they account for a relatively small proportion (3%) of U.S. colleges and universities, roughly 40 percent of blacks earning science, technology, engineering, and math degrees do so at black colleges. Eighty-five percent of black medical doctors attend a black college at some point in their educational career. Forty percent of black doctoral degree holders earned their bachelor’s degree at a black college. These statistics beg the question of why it is so difficult to conceive of HBCUs as prestigious entities worthy of the same level of respect and accord we so easily dole out to so called “mainstream” or predominantly white colleges.

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