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What do prisoner laborers, graduate students, welfare workers, and college athletes have in common? According to sociologist Erin Hatton, they are all part of...

What do prisoner laborers, graduate students, welfare workers, and college athletes have in common? According to sociologist Erin Hatton, they are all part of a growing workforce of coerced laborers.

Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment (University of California Press, 2020) explores this world of coerced labor through an unexpected and compelling comparison of these four groups of workers, for whom a different definition of “employment” reigns supreme—one where workplace protections do not apply and employers wield expansive punitive power, far beyond the ability to hire and fire. Because such arrangements are common across the economy, Hatton argues that coercion—as well as precarity—is a defining feature of work in America today.

Theoretically forceful yet vivid and gripping to read, Coerced compels the reader to reevaluate contemporary dynamics of work, pushing beyond concepts like “career” and “gig work.” Through this bold analysis, Hatton offers a trenchant window into this world of work from the perspective of those who toil within it—and who are developing the tools needed to push back against it.

In this interview, Hatton and I discuss how she chose her unique cases for the book (graduate students, inmates, workfare workers, and college athletes), coercion related to status, agency and resistance, and the often harsh, punitive power of work supervisors and employers. I recommend this book for students, professors, and anyone else interested in labor, social stratification, qualitative methods, and culture.

Erin Hatton, PhD, is an associate professor in the SUNY Buffalo Department of Sociology. Professor Hatton’s research focuses on work and political economy, while also extending into the fields of social inequality, labor, law and social policy. You can find her on Twitter at @eehatton.


Krystina Millar is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University. Her research interests include gender, sociology of the body, and sexuality. You can find her on Twitter at @KrystinaMillar.