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.
Mt. Rainer Park in Washington was recently closed while the FBI investigated the fatal shooting of a park ranger and death of the gunman, probably from exposure. I could write about an almost two-year old law allowing people to bring loaded weapons into national parks or the untimely death of a young park worker, but I think it is salient to focus on what the media have already called to our attention: the alleged gunman is a veteran of the Iraqi war. After serving in Iraq for two years, reports from those who knew him say he was depressed, aggressive, and most likely suffered from PTSD once back in the U.S. Although I do not know if he was employed at the time of this tragedy, what occurred in Mt. Rainer should remind us of the economic plight of combat veterans.
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).
Many of us are watching with rapt attention as events in Oakland, Atlanta, and many other cities unfold. The police actions in NYC at the outset of the movement, and now the use of tear gas by police (and the serious injury inflicted on a Marine veteran) all play into the movement dynamics in very interesting ways. Readers will want to visit our sister blog, Sociological Images, for a very interesting story by Gwen Sharp, who presents a provocative graph charting what seems to be a dialectical relation between police repression and media coverage, in keeping with social movement theory. And yesterday, many national newspapers were reporting that many cities (New York, Oakland) were beginning to back off, perhaps sensing the tactical disadvantages that repression involves.
Just a quick note on upcoming content.
We are planning on getting a number of other regular contributors in the near future, with a goal of getting up to half a dozen new blog posts each week. Until we get fully up to speed, we’ll probably be posting around one or two new posts per week. All new posts will be announced on our Twitter.
In addition to contributions from our regular contributors, we are commissioning a number of pieces for Discussions and Panels. Among topics we expect to be coming soon are:
- Ed Walker on Occupy Wall St.
- Ofer Sharone on digital media and the job search
- Dave Cotter, Joan Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman on egalitarian essentialism
- Jeff Sallaz and Victoria Johnson on Bourdieu and the study of work organizations
- Work, Gender, and the Media
- Financialization and work
- The new labor scholar/practitioner network that is being set up (coordinated by American Rights at Work)
Contact is if you have any more ideas for Discussions or Panels. And if you are a sociologist interested in posting something, please do be in touch.
Welcome to the Organizations, Occupations and Work blog, established under the auspices of the OOW section of the American Sociological Association. We hope the blog will provide a lively home for sociologists studying organizations, occupations and work, who will (we hope) enjoy the scholarly exchanges we aim to provide. But we also hope to address a broader audience, confronting questions of broad public concern about workplace and occupational issues today. Yes, there will be some jargon. And yes, there will be discussion of cutting edge journal articles, of the state of the art in this or that field. But in addition, we hope to provide fresh and irreverent takes on a wide array of work-related issues and events that to appeal to a wide audience.
And surely, such commentary has never been more sorely needed. For nearly a generation now, our nation’s economic institutions have been undergoing structural changes of historic proportions. Some occupations are being uprooted entirely. New forms of work organization have emerged. Non-standard work arrangements have begun to become the norm. Globalization has relocated employment in whole industries. And unemployment has spread widely, reaching levels not seen in generations.
Given these and other changes on the horizon, we have decided to join a small but growing group of sociologists and scholars in organizational studies who want to raise the public profile of sociology by establishing a stronger and more interactive presence in social media. Please see our blogroll for a list, by no means exhaustive, of related endeavors.
We think that the sociology of organizations, occupations and work can play an especially important role in this respect. Both popular and policy discourse on work and organizations are dominated by the efficiency-based perspective of mainstream economics. The list of sociological critiques of mainstream economics is well known: assumptions of perfect rationality, perfect information and information processing capability, fair and equal exchange, and efficient markets tending toward equilibrium and stability.
All of these – assumptions for economists – are generally seen by sociologists as outcomes that vary across time and space. Sociologists focus analysis on how the social world, including the economy, is fundamentally constituted by social and political institutions, from cultural understandings, habits, ways of thinking and norms to formal organizations, rules and laws, to power relationships (class, race/ethnicity, gender, etc). And these days, we are convinced that work organizations are simply too important (and too embattled) to be left to the economists.
We hope this blog will serve as a venue for disseminating these types of ideas and analysis, a platform for sociologists to try to reach a broader audience, and for sociologists and other scholars to exchange ideas and debate. We hope you find it useful, and we encourage your input topics you would like to see discussed here. Do not hesitate to contact us via email. And follow us on Twitter if you’d like.
Steve, Matt and Chris.