A Gedenkschrift to Randy Hodson: Working with Dignity: Volume 28

Cover of A Gedenkschrift to Randy Hodson: Working with Dignity
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Table of contents

(18 chapters)
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List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Abstract

In eulogizing Randy Hodson, I reflect on and celebrate the development and deepening of Randy’s intellectual legacy as I have seen it unfold and intersected with it at different points over the years. Our careers commenced in 1980 as labor sociologists were turning their attention toward worker agency in an emerging post-bureaucratic era of neo-liberalism. Our careers next intersected two decades later in an era of globalization through our initiative in building a transnational sociology of work. Randy triumphed as an agent of worker agency as he moved the field into the globalizing, post-bureaucratic epoch of the discipline’s intellectual history.

Part I: Resistance

Abstract

This chapter examines the underpinnings of collective resistance in a nonunion factory. I begin by acknowledging the important contribution made by Randy Hodson and others who have uncovered key material structural underpinnings of collective resistance in workplaces. Such an approach, however, leaves large unanswered questions about collective agency. I argue that a focus upon the potential links between lived culture and collective resistance can bring us closer to an understanding of collective agency. To this end, I present key findings of an ethnographic study of culture and resistance at window-blinds factory. I outline the informal collective resistance enacted by the workers in the factory and offer an analysis of the structural factors underpinning the considerable resistance at this factory. The second half of the chapter is dedicated to outlining the everyday Stayin’ Alive culture on the shopfloor and to analyzing the dotted lines that led from this culture to the collective resistance.

Abstract

In this tribute to Randy Hodson, I will demonstrate how the defining concept of his research – that “life demands dignity and meaningful work is essential for dignity” (Hodson, 2001, p. 3) – has led me to fundamentally reinterpret much of my earlier fieldwork, principally represented in Managing in the Corporate Interest: Control and Resistance in an American Bank (Smith, 1990) and Crossing the Great Divide: Worker Risk and Opportunity in the New Economy (Smith, 2001). I then suggest that we add a fifth condition to his formulation of challenges to dignity. Hodson identified four: management abuse, overwork, limits on autonomy, and contradictions of employee involvement. The framework needs to be contextualized within the fifth major challenge of our times: the broader environment of employment precariousness under neoliberalism that has deeply affected our micro-experiences at work, including those singled out by Hodson.

Abstract

This chapter examines the ways in which some organizations overstep their bounds by making unlimited claims on their employees’ lives. Organizations that do this are described as “greedy institutions,” using the term coined by sociologist Lewis Coser. Sullivan explains how modern technologies and other factors have enabled employers to make increasing claims on employees, extending the workday beyond its traditional limits and overworking the employees. Technologies such as smart phones have enabled employers to get greedier – often while appearing to do just the opposite. For example, an employer can appear to be generous to employees by issuing company-funded smart phones, but those smart phones become tethers that keep the employees attached to their work and their supervisors 24/7. Sullivan argues that while many corporations are greedy, some universities are now also becoming greedy, partially because of increasing demands for productivity and efficiency in higher education. Sullivan discusses these issues within the context of the work of Randy Hodson, who influenced Sullivan’s thinking and writing on this topic.

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Abstract

Randy Hodson’s categories offer an ambitious, comprehensive framework for analysing the objective and subjective conditions that shape dignity and resistance at work. In this chapter, we engage with Hodson and his collaborators work through exploring its potential usefulness in helping understand the experience of low-skill and low-paid factory workers at the end of supermarket supply chains in the United Kingdom. In emphasising the purposeful and strategic actions of workers to attain and maintain dignity within work, and management-influenced conditions that destroy or deny it, Hodson’s perspectives overlap with themes in more recent labour process theory that elaborate expanded notions of labour agency. While we share such concerns, we also identify some limitations to the framework and its explanatory powers, particularly where threats to dignity are associated with concepts of abuse and mismanagement. Our investigations of the supermarket supply chain reveal that management, authority and work organisation in these plants is not, by and large, ‘abusive’, ‘chaotic’ or ‘anomic’. Such terminology creates the unavoidable impression of pre-rational workplaces based on arbitrary, personal power. In our cases, the plants are not much ‘mis-managed’ as managed rationally according direct and indirect pressures exerted through supply chain power dynamics. Hodson’s framework for addressing issues of dignity and to a lesser extent resistance, remain an indispensable but incomplete entry point for understanding its dynamics.

Abstract

In recent years, scholars have engaged in an especially sharp debate about the structural and ideological arrangements on which business organizations rely in their effort to control the workers they employ. A key issue is the degree to which workers have retained the ability to resist such controls. In this chapter, I develop a critical analysis of the scholarly debate over domination and resistance at work, in an effort to clarify the tasks facing this field. My argument hinges on three major points. First, I argue that scholars have approached the control/resistance binary largely as a class relationship, thereby neglecting intersecting inequalities such as race, gender, and sexuality, which inevitably complicate or over-determine the forms that worker resistance assumes. Second, I argue that scholars have increasingly fixated on symbolic or discursive influences, privileging them at the expense of the material or structural conditions that shape managerial control and resistance to it. Third, I contend that much of the literature has failed to acknowledge the duality of managerial control – that is, its tendency not only to limit but also to enable resistance from below. These problems, taken together, explain why the debate has so often seemed to pursue a circuitous path, as if it were chasing its own tail. The chapter concludes by discussing the conditions that resistance presupposes, and by speculating about the emergence of novel forms of resistance that might be well suited to an age of flexible accumulation.

Part II: Inequality

Abstract

Randy Hodson’s research on workplace inequalities and dignity at work asks vital questions about the capacity of employment to provide the resources needed to support a decent life. A decent life involves not merely the capacity to meet basic needs but also the possibility of investing in upward mobility, for example by pursuing a college degree. Rising employment inequalities and slow-growing wages in the United States over the past several decades have challenged the capacity of ordinary workers to make these investments. Yet worries about college affordability are more likely to be expressed as a concern over the price of schooling than as a concern over the returns to work. In this chapter, I conduct an historical analysis of trends in the costs of college compared to trends in wages from the 1970s to the 2000s in order to evaluate how stagnating wages affected the possibilities for paying for college, using several different data sources on college costs and wages. I focus on the question of how much money a student worker could earn toward the costs of college. I show that over time student work became a significantly less lucrative undertaking and would have covered less of the costs of college over time even if college costs had remained stable. I conclude that we must pay attention to how the jobs crisis affects a range of institutions and growing stratification in opportunity in America. As Randy Hodson argued in his voluminous research, dignity at work has far-reaching consequences for the chances of a decent life.

Abstract

The 2007–2009 financial crisis initially appeared to have destroyed a huge amount of wealth in the United States. Housing prices dropped about 21% across the country and as much as 50% in some places, and the stock market dropped by nearly 50% as well. This chapter examines how the financial crisis differentially affected households at different parts of the income and wealth distributions. Our results show that all households lost about the same percentage of their wealth in that period. But because households in the top 10% of the wealth distribution owned many different kinds of assets, their wealth soon recovered. The bottom 80% of the wealth distribution had more of their wealth tied up in housing. We show that financial distress, indexed by foreclosures, being behind in mortgage payments, and changes in house prices were particularly concentrated in households in the bottom 80% of the wealth distribution. These households lost a large part of their wealth and have not yet recovered. Households that were most deeply affected were those who entered the housing market late and took out subprime loans. African American and Hispanic households were particularly susceptible as they bought houses late in the price bubble often with subprime loans.

Abstract

After multiple decades stumbling in the status attainment wilderness, the sociological study of inequality is now cultivating a new garden: the workplace generation of inequalities. While our theories have long focused on contextually embedded social relations – often in production – as generating inequality, our methods have lagged, focusing instead on individual status attainment, abstracted from social relations including those at work. In this chapter, we outline first how we got into this mess, and then advocate a principled comparative methodological framework for studying the organizational generation of durable inequalities. We highlight the particular contribution of Randy Hodson to the original critique of individualistic status attainment research and his role in developing alternative methodologies, some of which we think should be further developed today.

Abstract

Managers have a pressing need to contribute to profitability and an ethical responsibility to manage in ways that promote a sense of justice and fair play. But do these goals conflict with one another? More importantly, can managerial citizenship enhance firms’ financial success, and does its absence harm the bottom line? Answering these questions is crucial to understanding the future of work, given that pursuit of greater profits and productivity encourages employers to embrace neoliberal practices known to erode trust and reciprocity in work organizations. Survey data and ethnographic case studies have shown that managerial practices promoting organizational trust, reciprocity, and a sense of organizational justice generate worker satisfaction, commitment, and effort. Until now, however, sociologists have lacked data linking workers’ experiences to direct indicators of firm performance. Evaluating findings from survey research and a meta-analysis of 263 studies (involving nearly 1.4 million employees in 192 firms across 49 industries) conducted by Gallup, I demonstrate that managerial citizenship behaviors enhance growth, productivity, profitability, and earnings, while limiting costly problems such as absenteeism, turnover, accidents, defects, and theft. I conclude that managers have a fiscal responsibility as well as an ethical responsibility to adhere to behavioral norms promoting organizational trust, reciprocity, and justice.

About the Authors

Pages 233-237
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Cover of A Gedenkschrift to Randy Hodson: Working with Dignity
DOI
10.1108/S0277-2833201628
Publication date
2016-02-05
Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78560-727-1
eISBN
978-1-78560-726-4
Book series ISSN
0277-2833