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Working for Respect


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About the Author

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 Jonathan R. Cole Professor of the Social Sciences, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theories and Empirics, and president of the American Assembly 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.


I am obsessed with this book! The prose is riveting. The blend of disparate methods is spectacular. The sheer adventure of student organizers fanning out across the country in a manner reminiscent of Freedom Summer will keep you turning the pages. Taken together, the portrait wrought is simply devastating. Walmart not only demands your labor and your loyalty, it claims your pride and strips you of dignity. -- Kathryn Edin, coauthor of $2 a Day: The Art of Living on Virtually Nothing in America
Walmart-the largest U.S. employer-is a symbol for high inequality in America. Its many shop-floor employees are paid as little as possible and have never shared in the huge success and profits of the company. Why can't Walmart workers get a bigger share of the pie they helped create? This book, based on extensive interviews with Walmart workers, helps us understand why a job at Walmart might be the least bad option for many, how workers make sense of their job, and the challenges of organizing work at Walmart. Working for Respect is essential reading for a rich sociological understanding of the struggles of low-paid workers pitted against all-powerful corporations in America today. -- Emmanuel Saez, University of California, Berkeley
How do people find and flex their own power to improve their workplaces? What lessons can all of us learn from dogged and creative efforts to organize workers at Walmart, the biggest private employer in the world? What kinds of relationships between organizers and their communities are most likely to lead to organizing breakthroughs? Working for Respect is a gripping read-a thoughtful, perceptive, and accessible work that takes a multi-layered approach, from in-depth interviews with Walmart workers to brain scans to a crash course in front-line organizing and beyond. This is a book for students of organizing, for academics interested in helping to counter rampant economic inequality, and for anyone who cares about winning material gains and respect for all workers in the age of Trump. -- Anna Galland, Executive Director,
Working for Respect is an extraordinary book, both in its deft and original intertwining of multiple research methods and in the insights it generates. -- Erik Olin Wright, author of Envisioning Real Utopias
Working for Respect is at once a brilliant analysis of the lives of Walmart workers and an original effort to bridge the tension between scholarly work and activism. Along the way, Reich and Bearman raise the bar for mixed-method research in the social sciences. -- Mitchell Duneier, Maurice P. During Professor of Sociology, Princeton University
Working for Respect is an engaging read that bristles with fresh insights into both the experience of low-wage service sector work and the dilemmas facing the labor movement. It offers an ethnography of what the authors dub 'Walmartism' as well as an argument about the ways in which social ties centered on trust have the potential to jumpstart social change. A must-read for any sociologist of labor. -- Ruth Milkman, CUNY Graduate Center
With Working for Respect, Adam Reich and Peter Bearman issue a rare invitation. To go with them to Walmart, to listen with them to the workers and to the managers who roam the stores, to take in the culture of low-wage work in America, and also to listen to the students who participated in what became the Summer for Respect. This is a gripping book about the relationship between social ties and social change, remarkable for its intelligence and the subtlety of its distinctions. We learn that in the end it is trust rather than good feeling that inspires collective action for social change. -- Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice
While Walmart plays enormous economic, symbolic, and employment roles nationwide, the interplay of these dynamics has not been fully explored. Working for Respect makes great progress in understanding Walmart as a social institution and therefore in understanding work at Walmart as a unique bellwether of contemporary work. -- Andrew Perrin, University of North Carolina
The use of interview excerpts amplifies the voices of low-wage workers not often heard in public discourse. This is an insightful examination of the inner workings of the 'country's largest corporate employer.' * Publishers Weekly (starred review) *
No one has analyzed the experiences and aspirations of Walmart workers as thoughtfully as Adam Reich and Peter Bearman do in their captivating new book. * American Prospect *
What differentiates and recommends it for close reading are the anecdotes and perspectives of workers who face down enormous personal and social challenges and barriers, only to have their goals to contribute and thrive in American society tempered or more often dashed by what they (and the authors) see as corporate measures of compliance, coercion, and control. * Choice *
The labor movement still has life, and Reich and Bearman provide a valuable reminder regarding where we need to look to find it. * Social Forces *
A vital perspective. Analytically exhilarating. Fascinating. * Contemporary Sociology *
A compelling case study of one of the most important labor organizing efforts in twenty-first-century America. . . . Working for Respect will pique the interest of scholars, students, and activists keyed into the economic contradictions of late neoliberalism and searching for both explanations and practical solutions. * British Journal of Sociology *
Adam Reich and Peter Bearman provide insight for both the conditions and experiences of working at a place like Walmart, as well as the relationship between community engagement and feelings of social solidarity. * Sociological Forum *

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