In recent years the problem of precarity has become the primary focus of both popular and academic accounts of work. Yet precarity is not the only troublesome feature of the contemporary economy. In this article I show that coercion—rather than precarity—is central to an array of work relations in the U.S., including prison labor, workfare, foreign guestwork, undocumented labor, and more. Through ground-level case studies of prison labor and workfare, I examine workers’ experience of labor coercion. I then build out from this empirical analysis to theorize the structure of coercive labor regimes and their relationship to precarity. Coercive labor regimes, I argue, are those in which employers that have state-sanctioned power over workers’ well-being, families, and futures—a power that I call “social coercion.” This analysis thus identifies a new arena in which the “ambidextrous” neoliberal state (Peck, 2010) operates in America today.
Scholars have persuasively argued that U.S. penal and welfare institutions comprise a single policy regime that has taken a punitive turn with carceral expansion and welfare contraction. Less recognized, however, is the centrality of labor to this regime. Not only has labor been the lynchpin of welfare reform with the expansion of workfare, it has also been an important yet overlooked dimension of mass incarceration, as most able-bodied American prisoners are required to work. For prisoners and welfare recipients, work is a punitive curtailment of citizenship rights, even as it is a foundation of such rights for others. This article thus conceptualizes work as a form of punishment in the penal-welfare regime. Drawing on 83 in-depth interviews with incarcerated and workfare workers, it examines these workers’ penal subjectivities—how they ideologically navigate their labor qua punishment. Through this negotiation, it finds, incarcerated and workfare workers deploy, contest, and reify the cultural narratives that justify their relegation to punitive labor regimes.
In the mid-1980s Daniels (1987) coined the term ‘invisible work’ to characterise those types of women’s unpaid labour—housework and volunteer work—which had been culturally and economically devalued. Scholars have since applied this term to many types of labour, yet there is little clarity or consensus as to what ‘invisibility’ means and what mechanisms produce it. Through an in-depth analysis of this far-reaching literature, the present article seeks to reconstruct ‘invisible work’ as a more robust analytical concept. It argues that work is made invisible through three intersecting sociological mechanisms—here identified as cultural, legal and spatial mechanisms of invisibility. Though they differ in function and degree, each of these mechanisms obscures the fact that work is performed and therefore contributes to its economic devaluation. Ultimately, this revised concept of invisible work offers scholars a new analytic tool to untangle the systems that produce and reproduce disadvantage for workers.
Scholars have examined many different types of labour, including 'nonmarket', 'informal' and 'underground' work. Such studies elucidate the conditions and consequences for workers in these jobs, while also generally accepting as unproblematic the basic distinctions between such categories of labour and 'market' work. Yet such distinctions should be a central point of interrogation. This article probes these distinctions by analysing the overlapping social and legal boundaries which fragment work into categories of 'market', 'nonmarket', 'informal' and 'underground' labour. Instead of reifying these categorisations, however, this analysis shows them to be socially constructed categories that mutually constitute one another. By systematising their points of connection and departure, the boundary map presented in this article provides the analytical structure for new comparative research across seemingly dissimilar categories of work, which will extend scholarly understanding of the fragmentation of work and the relationship between work and inequality.
Since the 1970s, U.S. employers have restructured their relationship to the labor market. This restructuring has included their rising use of nonstandard workers, particularly agency temps, and their systematic attacks on labor unions. These two trends are generally understood to be related but separate facets of a broader restructuring of the employment relationship. In this article, the author shows where and how these trends intersect by analyzing 106 labor-management disputes. Employers use temps as weapons against unions in four primary ways: to prevent unions from forming, to weaken existing unions, to apply pressure on unions during negotiations, and to intimidate or harass striking workers. The author concludes that deploying agency temps in this way is a qualitatively new phenomenon--not simply a continuation of employers' longstanding practice of replacing union workers with "scab" labor.
Work and organizations are gendered through the complex interaction of organizational structure, culture, and worker agency. Two specific mechanisms that accomplish this process of organizational gendering are (1) occupational gender typing and (2) the ideal worker norm. These mechanisms are usually considered in isolation but, in fact, they operate together in the gendering of work and organizations. In this article, through a content analysis of more than 1000 US temp industry documents from 1946 to 1979, I examine how these mechanisms historically interacted in the gendering – and subsequent re-gendering – of temporary employment. By unpacking the layers of organizational gendering, even when such layers are constructed in the past, this analysis advances our understanding of how to reconstruct organizations in ways that are ‘less oppressively gendered’ (Britton 2000, p. 430).
In this article, we identify legal knowledge as a key difference between workers who desire workplace change and those who do not. Based on surveys with 121 day laborers, we find that not all day laborers are equally dissatisfied with their jobs, despite uniformly difficult working conditions. Some day laborers do not want to make any real changes to the day labor industry, while others desire a range of industry changes, from higher wages to greater government regulation and unionization. A key difference between these workers is their knowledge of employment law: Those who know the law are more likely to desire workplace change.
A number of scholars and journalists have argued that Western culture has become ‘sexualized’. Both women and men, they maintain, are highly sexualized in popular media. At the same time, scholars have examined the sexualization of women as part of a broader cultural ‘backlash’ against the gains of second-wave feminism and women’s increasing power in society. We contribute to both of these fields with a longitudinal content analysis of four decades of Rolling Stone magazine covers. First, we analyze whether both women and men have become more sexualized over time and, if so, whether such increases have been proportionate. Second, we examine whether there is a relationship between women’s increasing power in the music industry (as measured by popularity) and their sexualization on the cover of Rolling Stone. In the first case, we do not find evidence that US culture as a whole has become sexualized, as only women – but not men – have become both more frequently and more intensely sexualized on the cover of Rolling Stone. In the second case, we find evidence that sexualized images may be part of a backlash against women’s gains since, as women musicians’ popularity increased, they were increasingly sexualized and under-represented on the cover of Rolling Stone.
A number of journalists and scholars have pointed to the sexual objectification of women and men in popular media to argue that Western culture has become ‘‘sexualized’’ or even ‘‘pornified.’’ Yet it is not clear whether men or women have become more frequently—or more intensely sexualized—over time. In a longitudinal content analysis of images of women and men on more than four decades of Rolling Stone magazine covers (1967–2009), we begin to answer such questions. Using a unique analytical framework that allows us to measure both the frequency and intensity of sexualization, we find that sexualized images of men and women have increased, though women continue to be more frequently sexualized than men. Yet our most striking finding is the change in how women—but not men—are sexualized. Women are increasingly likely to be ‘‘hypersexualized,’’ but men are not. These findings not only document changes in the sexualization of men and women in popular culture over time, they also point to a narrowing of the culturally acceptable ways for ‘‘doing’’ femininity as presented in popular media.
This article examines how temp industry leaders exploited notions of “women’s work” in the postwar era to create a new category of “respectable” but marginal employment. Although they employed substantial numbers of men, postwar industry leaders publicly cast temp work as “women’s work,” constructing the iconic image of the “Kelly Girl.” In doing so, they entered the postwar cultural debate about women and work, encouraging housewives to get jobs for self-fulfillment while at the same time maintaining the primacy of the domestic sphere. Through this strategy they began to build a new model of employment that would eventually change the meaning of work in America.