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People at Work

People at Work: Life, Power, and Social Inclusion in the New Economy

EDITED BY Marjorie L. DeVault
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    People at Work
    Book Description:

    People at Work is noted sociologist Marjorie L. DeVault's groundbreaking collection of original essays on the complexities of the modern-day workplace. By focusing on the lived experiences of the worker, not as an automaton on an assembly line, but as an embodied human of flesh and bone, these essays offer important insight on the realities of the workplace, and their effects on life at home and in communities. With contributions from some of today's top scholars, each essay is a detailed case study of a different aspect of the working world.Compelling, lively, and sometimes chilling, the contributors address issues from disability rights to immigrant labor, welfare reforms to budget cuts, competition to personal motivations. Each one valuable on its own, the essays in People at Work combine to illuminate the hurdles that workers of all backgrounds struggle with and, more broadly, the impact of change on workers' lives in the new, increasingly global, economy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-8519-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    As I travel from my teaching job in Syracuse, New York, to my home in Boston, Massachusetts, I rub shoulders with other professionals and business travelers moving through the airport—often connected to work via cell phone and laptop. As I pass through airport security, I encounter teams of workers doing x-ray screening—usually middle-aged white workers in Syracuse, but not in Boston, where the team turned predominantly white after September 11, 2001, but since then has gradually become more ethnically mixed again. I buy food in the Syracuse airport from white women and in Boston from Asian and Caribbean...

  5. PART I Ideologies of the Neoliberal Economy

    • 1 “Hell on My Face”: The Production of Workplace Il-literacy
      (pp. 25-39)

      The New Economy is bringing new stresses to working life. Many jobs are changing, and mostly not for the better; they are often part-time, more precarious, with lower wages and fewer benefits. At the same time, even such arguably bad jobs are said to involve higher skills and thus new requirements for employees. In this context, poor literacy skills are increasingly cited by employers and policymakers as a problem of crisis

      proportion, posing a threat to the global competitiveness and the prosperity of industrialized nations.

      This chapter challenges the dominant discourse about a “literacy crisis” at work, with its emphasis...

    • 2 Institutional Technologies: Coordinating Families and Schools, Bodies and Texts
      (pp. 40-56)

      In Los Angeles, a second grader sits at a working-class African American family’s kitchen table. She is doing an assignment from theOpen CourtReading textbook, part of the series adopted by her urban elementary school. Also on the table is a test-preparation workbook for the secondgrade level of the CAT-6, the standardized test required by California. The young girl’s mother bought the test preparation workbook at a local teacher supply store for ten dollars, following the recommendation of a teacher ather daughter’s school. Each night, while she cooks dinner and after her daughter finishes her regular homework, the mother...

    • 3 The Promises and Realities of U.S. Microenterprise Development
      (pp. 57-73)

      Over the past two decades, policymakers have become enamored of microenterprise development as an avenue for alleviating poverty and promoting economic development in marginalized communities. Microenterprises are defined as very small businesses that are owner operated, involve small amounts of startup capital (i.e., less than $20,000), and employ fewer than five employees. Microenterprise development programs (hereafter referred to as MDPs) aim to provide training and small loans to clients — especially to poor women and men of color — to help them start and operate their own microenterprises. The enthusiasm for microenterprise development is exemplified by the awarding of the 2006 Nobel...

    • 4 Work, Disability, and Social Inclusion: The Promise and Problematics of EU Disability Policy
      (pp. 74-94)

      Many observers would enthusiastically endorse Juan Somavia’s statement that begins by emphasizing the importance of work for individuals

      and ends by asserting its importance for “the stability of societies.” He asserts that work is important “for everybody,” in language that evokes a sense of inclusiveness. Yet, we know that in practice, work is characterized by inequalities and exclusions, many of which have come to seem “natural.” In the capitalist welfare states, it has been taken for granted that most disabled people have limited work opportunities and must often rely on benefits for their income. This chapter considers how policymakers and...

  6. PART II Mobile Bodies:: Incorporation Without Inclusion

    • 5 Flexible Hiring, Immigration, and Indian IT Workers’ Experiences of Contract Work in the United States
      (pp. 97-111)

      This chapter foregrounds how the terms of immigration and flexible labor practices in advanced capitalism shape the experiences of marginalization and disembodiment encountered by Indian information technology (IT) workers on the H-1B visa in the United States. Since the 1970s, the viability of capitalism has depended on the implementation of a variety of neoliberal policies, including the liberalization of trade, capital circulation, and the extensive reorganization of international division of manufacturing and service labor between the first and third worlds (Alexander and Mohanty 1997; Mitter and Rowbotham 1994; Steger 2002). These measures followed closely on the heels of colonial capitalism...

    • 6 Economic Restructuring and the Social Regulation of Citizenship in the Heartland
      (pp. 112-138)

      This chapter centers the experiences of Mexican immigrants, Mexican American migrants, and white European American residents in rural Iowa

      and argues for a broadened definition of the state that captures the multiple arenas through which these residents are incorporated into the U.S. economy, society, and polity (and how community processes, migratory patterns, and resistance strategies may inhibit incorporation). This process of incorporation occurs at the local community level and involves ongoing social regulatory activities that circumscribe the ways in which new residents can make claims as permanent members of specific locales. These local social regulatory activities and interactions construct the...

  7. PART III The Fictional Worlds of “Unencumbered Workers”

    • 7 Training for Low-Wage Work: TANF Recipients Preparing for Health-Care Work
      (pp. 141-156)

      In the following pages, relying heavily on the accounts of women I met while writing an ethnography about welfare-to-work training, I discuss

      the relationship between a welfare-bound policy of personal responsibility and the actualities of women’s lives. I use Dorothy E. Smith’s (1987, 1990a, b) method of institutional ethnography to make connections between everyday life or taken-for-granted local actions and larger social practices or organizing texts and policies. As Marie Campbell (2002) points out, “the question that an institutional ethnographer wants to answer is: ‘what organization of the world maintains the position that these people live and suffer from, and...

    • 8 Women’s Lives, Welfare’s Time Limits
      (pp. 157-179)

      The crowning achievement of the neoliberal restructuring of the American welfare state, the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), in 1996, represented the triumph of the linked ideological tenets of individualism and market fundamentalism (Kingfisher 2002; Morgen and Maskovsky 2003; O’Connor 2001; Somers and Block 2005). For more than one hundred years, policymakers and researchers in the United States have debated whether poverty is a product of structural inequality and labor market exploitation or of individual failing and behavioral weakness (Katz 1989). Always dominant in this debate, the behaviorists finally won when the PRWORA passed...

    • 9 Personal Responsibility in Professional Work: The Academic “Star” as Ideological Code
      (pp. 180-202)

      The so-called New Economy has brought increasing uncertainty and risk for many workers. But as manufacturing workers see their jobs moving

      elsewhere and high-tech workers watch their bubble burst, it seems that high-status professional workers are shielded from these ideologies of personal responsibility and risk. This chapter suggests, however, that the imperatives of personal responsibility simply appear in a different, perhaps subtler form. Academic work has always had an entrepreneurial aspect, reflected in the autonomy of faculty to shape and build their intellectual careers. The transformations of the New Economy, however, seem to be stratifying the academic workforce (Jacobs 2004)....

    • 10 “Use What You Have, Be Thankful You Have It”: Work and the Promise of Social Inclusion for Students with Disabilities
      (pp. 203-220)

      People with disabilities have faced substantial difficulties in accessing education and have experienced much higher unemployment than nondisabled citizens. In recent years, opportunities for higher education have increased dramatically, yet it remains uncertain whether obtaining a higher education will translate into more successful transitions to employment for these students. While increasing numbers of students with disabilities are entering college, it is less clear that the college experience is an effective route to employment or to the social inclusion that work might promise.

      Higher education is increasingly perceived to be essential for success in the workplace. Of the twenty fastest growing...

  8. PART IV Fiscal Discipline:: The Texts of Public-Sector Budget Cutting

    • 11 Exploring Problematics of the Personal-Responsibility Welfare State: Issues of Family and Caregiving in Welfare-to-Work and Medicaid Consumer-Directed Care Programs
      (pp. 223-247)

      As legislators and policymakers work to reinvent the U.S. social welfare state at the turn of the millennium, the promotion of “personal responsibility” has emerged as a widely accepted discursive theme. The notion is central to a range of new initiatives, including personal retirement accounts to replace social security, individualized medical savings accounts to replace Medicare, and efforts to enforce child-support collections more actively. In these and related areas, welfare-state proposals, demonstrations, and legislation have sent the message that personal responsibility is a central principle in welfare-service delivery. This chapter employs an institutional ethnographic approach to explore how these new...

    • 12 The “Textualized” Student: An Institutional Ethnography of a Funding Policy for Students with Special Needs in Ontario
      (pp. 248-265)

      These are the words of one professional who participated in the funding exercise in one of the local boards in Ontario where I conducted this study. The controversial funding policy, Intensive Support Amount (ISA) claims, has now been suspended, and the provincial government is seeking ways to replace it with a revised funding formula. However, this tale must be told, for once we remove “policy from its pedestal” (Ozga 2000) and study the social organization of knowledge (Smith 1987, 1999), we bring “into view the local moments of articulation to the extra-local relations of restructuring” (Griffith 2001: 88) that highlight...

    • 13 (Dis)continuity of Care: Explicating the Ruling Relations of Home Support
      (pp. 266-288)

      Personal-support services have a particular and important place in the lives of people with disabilities who live in their own homes in the community. Too often, what these people need is not readily available to them. Approximately 2.4 million adult Canadians with disabilities—70 percent of adults with disabilities—require help with some type of daily activity,including light and heavy housekeeping; approximately 30 percent of themrequire some, or much more, help than they can get, according to the Canadian Council on Social Development (2005). Policy analysts agree that the implementation of approved policy framework and programs adequate to the needs...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 289-302)

    In the months since I wrote the introduction to this book, I have traveled many times between my job in upstate New York and my home in Boston. All that back and forth is invisible in the text—and rightly so. But the travel, and also its invisibility, could serve as emblems for the twin foci of our book. Each contributor has considered people at work, attending to their activities and the material sites of their lives; each has also considered how those people’s efforts are represented in the texts of economic restructuring and how those texts are hooked into...

  10. References
    (pp. 303-332)
  11. Contributors
    (pp. 333-338)
  12. Index
    (pp. 339-344)