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Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart

February 26, 2019
6:15 pm


The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Event Type: 

New Books in the Arts & Sciences:
Celebrating Recent Work by Adam Reich and Peter Bearman


Tuesday, February 26, 2019  6:15pm

The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

Working For Respect Book Cover



Free and open to the public

No registration necessary

First come, first seated



The Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities

Office of the Divisional Deans in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy

Department of Sociology

Working for Respect: Community and Conflict at Walmart
By: Adam Reich and Peter Bearman

Walmart is the largest employer in the world. It encompasses nearly 1 percent of the entire American workforce—young adults, parents, formerly incarcerated people, retirees. Walmart also presents one possible future of work—Walmartism—in which the arbitrary authority of managers mixes with a hyperrationalized, centrally controlled bureaucracy in ways that curtail workers’ ability to control their working conditions and their lives.

In Working for Respect, Adam Reich and Peter Bearman examine how workers make sense of their jobs at places like Walmart in order to consider the nature of contemporary low-wage work, as well as the obstacles and opportunities such workplaces present as sites of struggle for social and economic justice. They describe the life experiences that lead workers to Walmart and analyze the dynamics of the shop floor. As a part of the project, Reich and Bearman matched student activists with a nascent association of current and former Walmart associates: the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart). They follow the efforts of this new partnership, considering the formation of collective identity and the relationship between social ties and social change. They show why traditional unions have been unable to organize service-sector workers in places like Walmart and offer provocative suggestions for new strategies and directions. Drawing on a wide array of methods, including participant-observation, oral history, big data, and the analysis of social networks, Working for Respect is a sophisticated reconsideration of the modern workplace that makes important contributions to debates on labor and inequality and the centrality of the experience of work in a fair economy.

About the Authors:

Adam Reich is an associate professor of sociology at Columbia University. He is the author of Hidden Truth: The Young Men Navigating Lives in and out of Juvenile Prison (2010); With God on Our Side: The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in a Catholic Hospital (2012); and Selling Our Souls: The Commodification of Hospital Care in the United States(2014).

Peter Bearman is the Cole Professor of the Social Sciences and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theories and Empirics at Columbia University. He is the author of Relations Into Rhetorics (1993) and Doormen (2005) and coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology (2009), as well as coeditor of the Middle Range series at Columbia University Press.

About the Speakers:

Suresh Naidu teaches economics, political economy and development at SIPA. Naidu previously served as a Harvard Academy Junior Scholar at Harvard University, and as an instructor in economics and political economy at the University of California, Berkeley. Naidu holds a BMath from University of Waterloo, an MA in economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a PhD in economics from the University of California, Berkeley.

Shamus Khan: My work is primarily within the areas of cultural sociology and stratification, with a strong focus on elites. I am the author of Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton 2011); The Practice of Research (Oxford 2013, with Dana Fisher), and am completing Exceptional: The Astors, Elite New York, and the Story of American Inequality (Princeton, forthcoming). With Dorian Warren, I am the director of a Russell Sage Foundation working group on “The Political Influence of Economic Elites;” I also serve as the principal investigator on a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation project using the New York Philharmonic archives to uncover the character of their subscribers from the 1870s-present.  In addition to my primary focus, I also write in the areas of gender theory, deliberative politics, and research methodology. I recently served as an opinion columnist for Time Magazine and continue to write about sociology in the popular press.

Catherine J. Turco is the Fred Kayne (1960) Career Development Professor of Entrepreneurship and an Associate Professor of Economic Sociology and Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Turco is an ethnographer and economic sociologist who studies cultural dynamics in organizations, occupations, and markets, with particular focus on the role of meaning in people's lives and work. Turco is the author of The Conversational Firm: Rethinking Bureaucracy in the Age of Social Media (New York: Columbia University Press). Her research has also appeared in the American Journal of Sociology and the American Sociological Review, and has been recognized with awards from the American Sociological Association. It has been covered by The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, CNN, and Fortune. Prior to entering academia, Turco worked as a technology investment banker and then in the software industry, where she managed a corporate venture fund. She has consulted to a number of organizations on issues of corporate strategy and culture. Turco received her BA in economics from Harvard College, where in addition to her studies, she was president of Harvard Student Agencies/Let’s Go Inc., a 1,000-person company. She received her MBA from Harvard Business School, where she was a Baker Scholar. She received her MA and PhD in sociology from Harvard University, where she was a Presidential Scholar.



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