Archive

Tag Archives: aesthetic labour

wage_theftby Corey Robin

Midterm elections are like fancy software: Experts love them, end-users couldn’t care less. But if the 2010 elections are any indication, we might not want to doze off as we head into the summer months before November. Midterm elections at the state level can have tremendous consequences, especially for low-wage workers. What you don’t know can hurt you — or them.

In 2010, the Republicans won control of the executive and legislative branches in 11 states (there are now more than 20 such states). Inspired by business groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, they proceeded to rewrite the rules of work, passing legislation designed to enhance the position of employers at the expense of employees.

Read More

Advertisements

While the first flight attendants were male and many early airlines had a ban on hiring women, flight attending would eventually become a quintessentially female occupation.  Airline marketers exploited the presence of these female flight attendants.  Based on my reading — especially Phil Tiemeyer‘s Plane Queer and Kathleen Barry’s history of flight attendants’ labor activism — there seem to have been three stages.

Read More

young good looking retail workers

It has become something of an orthodoxy on both sides of the Atlantic that job quality is polarising into good and bad jobs. A lot of attention in the US and UK is focused on making these bad jobs better. It is less well appreciated that good jobs can go bad and that bad jobs can get even worse. It might be that aesthetic labour contributes to the latter.

Much of the initial research into aesthetic labour has analysed retail jobs. Employment in retail constitutes what might be termed a ‘bad job’. Most jobs in retail are low skill and retail is one of the main low wage industries in the US and UK.

It seems that this bad job is getting worse however as retail companies seek to aestheticise their workforce, hiring employees who look good or sound right. Two developments have emerged as a consequence of this aestheticisation strategy by employers.

Read More

You shouldn’t keep a good tattoo hidden – unless that is if you’re a company worried about scaring your customers. Air New Zealand is one such company. It has refused to hire a job applicant because she had a visible traditional Maori tattoo; Maoris of course being the first people of what became New Zealand. The applicant, Claire Nathan thought the company ‘would be quite proud to have someone with a ta moko working and representing New Zealand’. Instead the company stated that  ‘We want all of our customers to feel comfortable and happy when travelling on our services and this has been a key driver of our grooming standard which, like many other international airlines, prevents customer facing staff from having visible tattoos.’

Read More

This month I completed what the Australians call a ‘FIFO’ – a fly in, fly out visit to London. I was there to participate in a review of the ESRC-funded research centre SKOPE, based at Oxford University. The visit coincided with the funeral in London of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Reading through the UK press obituaries, I think that a fair summary of Thatcher political life was that while she loved Britain, she loathed the British. It’s interesting that if, as many of the right-wing commentators claimed, she changed Britain for the better, her offspring now live in the US and South Africa and also flew in for the occasion.

Read More

From America to Australia, the new, third season of the TV series Downton Abbey has started. Even in an age of opulence, life is sometimes not easy for a well-heeled family. In the first episode, Downton Abbey’s new footman is proving difficult. Not only does he not know the difference between silver service and butler service but he is too tall for the job and does not fit his uniform. His height therefore is a problem because wearing these uniforms is one of the many important signifiers of the family’s wealth and status.

As Cynthia Cockburn has pointed out, the physicality of jobs can be constructed to fit only certain bodes; in her study of the printing industry, male bodies. In this industry, tools and equipment were designed to suit male bodies, acting to disadvantage women. Apparently, workwear too can be designed to fit only certain bodies. Because the uniforms, or livery, of domestic staff can be expensive, in order to cut costs and recycle, uniforms would be bought that fit average size bodies. To wear them and be able to work, footmen therefore need to be of average height and build, as William Hanson explained in the Huffington Post. Even today at Buckingham Palace footmen are typically of average height – 5’ 8’’ – for this reason, Hanson continued.

The height of the Downton Abbey footman made me start thinking about the loci of aesthetic labour, or more prosaically: where is it found? Aesthetic labour centres on how interactive service organisations seek to create a style of service encounter that affects customers’ senses. Most research as focused on workers looks, though increasingly research is turning to how workers sound. Encapsulating theses senses, along with my colleague Dennis Nickson, I’ve suggested that aesthetic labour is most obviously manifest in dress, comportment and speech. The issue though is whether it is a purely private sector initiative, as employers seek to gain competitive advantage, or can be found in other sectors, such as the public and not-for-profit sectors. Read More

david-cameron-squa_2396863a

Pity UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. He’s a toff with tummy trouble. Dressed in white tie giving his annual speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in the Guildhall in London, the midriff studs popped off his dress shirt.  Untrimmed tummy exposed to a photographer’s lens, his embarrassment was quickly posted on the internet.

As wardrobe malfunctions go, it hardly compares with Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl.  However it did spark a debate in the UK media about sartorial etiquette. At least Cameron made the effort to dress properly, the Conservative Party-supporting Daily Telegraph newspaper chimed. It’s the tie-less creative class that deserve a dressing down for dressing down, it opined, pointing to the newly appointed acting director-general of the BBC, Tim Davie, who turned up for his first day of work – shock, horror – tieless.

Read More