When we hear about the “future of work” today we tend to think about different forms of automation and artificial intelligence—technological innovations that will make some jobs easier and others obsolete while (hopefully) creating new ones we cannot yet foresee, and never could have. But perhaps this future isn’t so incomprehensible. Perhaps it’s here already, right in front of our faces, at the largest employer in the world. In their new book, Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart
(Columbia University Press, 2018) sociologists Adam Reich
and Peter Bearman
analyze what it means to work at the world’s largest retailer—and the largest provider of low-wage jobs. Through stories from Walmart employees and observations from stores around the country, they provide much insight into their working conditions and the relationship they have with their surrounding communities. But a truly novel approach and broad set of additional methods make the book shine. Inspired by the Freedom Summer of 1964, in 2014 (the 50th anniversary of that pivotal event) Reich and Bearman launched the “Summer of Respect,” for which they hired a team of college students to work on membership registration for OUR Walmart, a voluntary association of current and former Walmart associates. The students fanned out in teams to communities around the United States, and in addition to organizing and gathering data on Walmart workers, Reich and Bearman also examined them upon their return to determine the influence that social justice engagement has on people. Working for Respect
, then, goes far beyond the typical “bad jobs” treatment to provide an impressive look at the important role of community in social change.
Richard E. Ocejo
is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). He is the author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy
(Princeton University Press, 2017), about the transformation of low-status occupations into cool, cultural taste-making jobs (cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole animal butchers), and of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City
(Princeton University Press, 2014),
about growth policies, nightlife, and conflict in gentrified neighborhoods. His work has appeared in such journals as City & Community
, and the European Journal of Cultural Studies.
He is also the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork
(Routledge, 2012), a co-Book Editor at City & Community
, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Metropolitics
, Work and Occupations,
and the Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography.