Mission Statements: Elite Harvard, Middle-Class Chico, and Working-Class Butte College

Schooling Childhood Cover

Education is an inherent paradox. At its most explicit, it assumes that students are trained for a fair, meritocratic, and competitive labor market in which learning is valued without reference to who they are or their social connections. This is why fair markets are “anonymous”….

But schools do not operate in anonymous markets. Schools emphasizing the visible honors of academic achievement, teacher-student relationships, are often the opposite. The tensions between the utility of skills in an anonymous labor market while monopolizing the distribution of visible status honors in the broader community is at the heart of the educational enterprise (see Weber 1920/2010).

As anyone who has ever perused US News and World Reports college rankings issue knows, raw anonymous human capital is not the only thing peddled at elite colleges—so are “connections,” status, and habitus of elites. Ross Douthat [currently an influential New York Times columnist], in fact addressed this tension—that between visible honors and the anonymous labor market in which productivity is the measure—at Harvard University. He concluded that any success he would have in the future was related to connections as much as anything else:


I understood the secret of Harvard’s success—which is that it doesn’t end with college, that it still exists out in the wider world, and that all of my adult life, all the people I would know, the jobs I might have, and the worlds I would conquer, would be nothing more than an extension of my four years in Cambridge . . . Harvard had made me to be elite and connected, and successful, to be inside, you might say . . .(Douthat 2005, 250).


[For Douthat, being inside included an internship at the National Review, and a trip on William F. Buckley’s boat where they went skinny dipping together, a rite of male bonding]  In other words, education at Harvard is not simply about the creation of skills, brain power, and the wisdom as sorted out in an anonymous meritocracy; it is, as Bourdieu wrote, also about the dominant preserving the dominant. Elites depend on institutions like Harvard to create the habits and symbols with which they can recognize each other. These symbols determine which worlds can be conquered. The Harvard pin is ultimately about inclusion for insiders who share and recognize a style of life, and exclude the rest of us.

And such habits echo downward in the stratification system. Just like the Harvard pin, the symbols, habits, and styles of life of working and middle class lives described in Annette Lareau’s book Unequal Childhoods:


Class, Race, and Social Life reproduce social class among middle- and working-class children in Pennsylvania. The difference is that the elite set the standards that reflect the overall shape of the status pyramid. Harvard sets the tone for the game; what is valued at the top reflects downward, shaping the habitus of those lower down and what they think, say, and do.


Mission Statements: Elite, Middle Class, and Working Class

Despite Ross Douthat’s bluntness about understanding ”the secret of success” being rooted in Harvard’s role in sorting people, there is nothing about elite exclusivity in the mission statement of Harvard College. Instead qualities like productive cooperation, full participation, and even the liberation of students (or at least Harvard’s students) is emphasized, even as they try to sneak in a statement about “self-reliance.” In fact the entire subject is missing of elites, buried in abstract statements about the centrality of advancement, encouragement, and rejoicing about responsibility:


The Mission of Harvard College

Harvard College adheres to the purposes for which the Charter of 1650 was granted: “The advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences; the advancement and education of youth in all manner of good literature, arts, and sciences; and all other necessary provisions that may conduce to the education of the . . . youth of this country. . . .” In brief: Harvard strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge, and to enable students to take best advantage of their educational opportunities. To these ends, the College encourages students to respect ideas and their free expression, and to rejoice in discovery and in critical thought; to pursue excellence in a spirit of productive cooperation; and to assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions. Harvard seeks to to remove restraints on students’ full participation, so that individuals may explore their capabilities and interests and may develop their full intellectual and human potential. Education at Harvard should liberate students to explore, to create, to challenge, and to lead. The support the College provides to students is a foundation upon which self-reliance and habits of lifelong learning are built: Harvard expects that the scholarship and collegiality it fosters in its students will lead them in their later lives to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society. (http://www. harvard.edu/siteguide/faqs/faq110.php)


Harvard’s latent mission is very clearly an elite one, untethered to the pragmatic utilitarian goals of a more anonymous marketplace as, say, the community college system, where the message is about “skills,” and not “responsibility.”


Butte College provides quality education, services, and workforce training to students who aspire to become productive members of a diverse, sustainable, and global society. We prepare our students for life-long learning through the mastery of basic skills, the achievement of degrees and certifications, and the pursuit of career and transfer pathways.


Or at the middle class Chico State where I teach, just down the road from working class Butte College, where a middle ground is sought in which graduates will both assume responsibility and also be “useful”:


California State University, Chico is a comprehensive university principally serving Northern California, our state and nation through excellence in instruction, research, creative activity, and public service. The University is committed to assist students in their search for knowledge and understanding and to prepare them with the attitudes, skills, and habits of lifelong learning in order to assume responsibility in a democratic community and to be useful members of a global society. (emphasis added)


…[But] [t]he missions of Butte College and Chico State do not exist in a vacuum, because middle-class values are profoundly influenced by the actions, wants, and needs of those above them and even those at social distant Harvard. Robert Frank’s book Falling Behind (2007) is among the most articulate in describing the very nature of economic inequality and the ideological interrelationships that develop in a fashion that, in Bourdieu’s words, “are identical to the interests of the dominant.” In other words the values of Chico State satisfy the needs of Harvard for midlevel managers who will be “useful members of a global society.” And finally down to the graduates of Butte College who can do the tasks that require “mastery of basic skills” and are needed by those above them in the system of hierarchical dominance….

Source; Tony Waters, Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child.  Palsgrave Books 2012.  Pages 112-115.

Gallows Tale V: Did Tanganyika’s Hangmen Go on Strike in 1924-1926?


Gallows File I The Extra “Whack”

Gallows File II Escape?

Gallows File III Are We Hanging the Right Man?

Gallows File IV The Advantages of Executing Locally!

Gallows File V: Did Tanganyika’s Hangmen Go on Strike?


It must be remembered that quite apart from the question of gallows, the difficulty of persons to carry out the executions is exceedingly acute. A great number of people have the greatest abhorrence of the job, and no compulsion can be used where there is any conscientious objection. In Kenya, the Prison staff decline altogether to undertake the work and they have the greatest difficult in finding a hangman. It has always been surprising to me that so many of our staff have undertaken the work without complaint, as I now the majority dislike it. At Bukoba it has been found impossible to carry out the executions on the gallows there for the last two years, because the Prison officials who have happened to be stationed there have had strong scruples against acting as executioner.

This is my last of the Gallows Tales of Tanganyika Territory, at least for a while. And as with most endings, there is a surprise. Which is that, after enthusiastically designing, gallows with humane trap doors, calculating the savings from having hangings done locally rather than across Lake Victoria, worrying about hanging the wrong man, and speculating that a man marched five weeks to the gallows might be a flight risk, the bureaucrats of the Office of the Commissioner of Police and Prisons missed one thing that could break down the whole system: The lack of hangmen. You see, after an enthusiastic push to construct gallows (stationery and mobile), and proceed post-haste with executions, they soon found out that the job of hangman was objectionable—and that the fees they paid were inadequate to keep the trap doors swinging downwards.

In the memo below from 1926, the Commissioner of Police and Prisons laments this condition, which according to some documents was due to an insistence that only a European operate the trap door (Africans were used to truss and bind the prisoner as well as position him on the trap door—but the final flip of the trap door was the responsibility of a European). But no Europeans could apparently be found to do this, at least for a short time. So thus after the enthusiastic kick off of hangings in Bukoba in 1923, by 1924 a de facto moratorium was declared due to the lack of willing hangmen. The same happened in British Kenya, according to the memo.

This was not of course the complete end to hanging in British East Africa (i.e. Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika). Indeed, a whole book, The History of the Hanged, has been written about how enthusiastically the British executed purported Mau Mau rebels in the 1950s. But at least in this small corner of East Africa, apparently the strike of the hangmen led to at least a temporary moratorium in 1924-1926. The memo is below. Tony Waters.



DAR ES SALAAM 11TH January 1926



Telegrams: Crime                                                      Registered No. H.Q. 27/71

Telephone: No. 73


The Hon’ble


The Chief Secretary to the Government,



Execution Gallows


With reference to your 3093/56 dated 8/1/26, gallows have been erected at Morogoro, Lindi, Tanga, Mwanza, Bukoba, Songea and Tukuyu.


  1. The following list shows the districts which they serve:-


Execution Gaol Districts Served
Morogoro Daressalaam, Bagamolyo, Kilwa, Utete, Morogoro, Kilosa, Dodoma, Iringa,
Tabora Mahenge and Kigoma ?Ufipa
Lindi Lindi
Tanga Tanga
Mwanza Mwanza
Bukoba Bukoba
Songea Songea
Tukuyu Tukuyu


  1. There should of course, be a gallows at Dar-es-Salaam, but with the present construction of the gaol it is impossible as there is no space available, and the situation in the middle of the commercial and partly European residential area makes such a course undesirable.


  1. I think that perhaps a permanent gallows might be erected at Tabora to serve Tabora and Kigoma and Ufipa districts; otherwise, so far as the stations off the line are concerned at which there are no gallows, the number of executions is negligible. It would be possible, also, to keep a portable gallows at Dar-es-Salaam for transport, as required, to Bagamoyo, Utete, or Kilwa, but in other cases I do not think the number o executions, elsewhere, makes such a course necessary.


  1. It must be remembered that quite apart from the question of gallows, the difficulty of persons to carry out the executions is exceedingly acute. A great number of people have the greatest abhorrence of the job, and no compulsion can be used where there is any conscientious objection. In Kenya, the Prison staff decline altogether to undertake the work and they have the greatest difficult in finding a hangman. It has always been surprising to me that so many of our staff have undertaken the work without complaint, as I now the majority dislike it. At Bukoba it has been found impossible to carry out the executions on the gallows there for the last two years, because the Prison officials who have happened to be stationed there have had strong scruples against acting as executioner.


  1. In conclusion, I consider the present unsatisfactory position cold be ameliorated by erecting another gallows at Tabora; (this will entail erecting a new building completely) and by providing a portable gallows at Dar-es-Salaam




signed (illegible)

Tanganyika Polic

National Adjunct Walkout Day #NAWD

I started adjuncting in spring 2006, about two weeks after turning in my MA thesis at California State University, Chico. I was hired to teach sociology by an Anthropology professor I’d taken in grad school who was also the chair of the social and behavioral sciences (SBS) department at Butte Community College. I reread my journal from that time and oh man, I was so happy to have a job right out of grad school.

But my happiness lasted only a brief period and right away I learned how easily adjuncts are hired and fired. The Friday before the spring semester began, the SBS department secretary called me and left me a voicemail at home stating that I was not going to be able to teach that Monday, no reason given and no request to call back if I wanted more information. I got on the phone quick, spoke to the chair of SBS at Butte College and learned I was deemed not “equivalent” because my MA was in Social Science not Sociology.

This was my introduction to the world of adjuncting. I was lucky, I knew a thing or two about California law and contracts and I had already signed mine, so I pushed back. I spent my first semester on pins and needles trying to gain equivalency to teach in the field I studied. I was granted equivalency in fall 2006, but only after fighting and writing lots of emails.

Today, adjuncts across the United States are staging walk-outs, teach-ins, and other types of action to bring attention to the adjunct plight. Adjuncts are precarious workers and even though I had no clue I was an adjunct when I was hired, it didn’t take long to learn I was on the shit end of the stick. I worked in low wage service work before I went back to school in my 30’s; I know what precarity feels like.

Precarity feels like shit. Dignity and shame are emotions adjuncts have to manage. It hurts them, hurts students, and is an illustration of the tremendous inequity in higher education; it is a two-tier system where (in this case) a set of workers do the exact same job but one group for far less in earnings and benefits; Weber called this status inconsistency: “a situation where an individual’s social position have both positive and negative influences on his or her social status.” For example, professor’s have a positive image imbued with respect and prestige, things that enhance status. At the same time, they earn little money and lack benefits and power.  Sound familiar?

I miss teaching though, I quit in June 2012, which you can read about here (good old fashioned quit lit). I’ve tried to get back into teaching (with eyes wide open, whatever that means) but no such luck. I did get a call from one of my old Dean’s in January; he’s working at Woodland Community College now. They needed someone to teach 1 soc class (and Woodland is a 90 minute drive from my house). I also got a voicemail from their 1 fulltime soc prof, “Hey Julie, this is so-and-so, I’m calling to talk about this position, really hoping you can help us out.” Help them out, hmpph. I sent a text to my former dean, “if you had more than one class…” and then I felt like shit. Why couldn’t I just say ‘No” or “Are you shitting me, you want me to drive 3 hrs a day for a hundred bucks minus taxes?”

Anyway, I came across this old rant I wrote in 2008, 2 years into teaching and in the thick of my growing consciousness about inequality in the academic workplace. I’m sure there are some inaccuracies but I certainly captured the frustration I felt and saw then and I see in other adjuncts now. Reasonably so, no one tells us about aduncting in grad school, we get worked by our tenured profs and every year fresh-faced, excited academics get churned into the murky waters of contingent labor for the system to feed off of like chum. And yeah, some tenured folk get it but for the most part, they are as rare as unicorns. If the tenured really want to help then please challenge the apathy and comfort zones of your tenured colleagues and administrators. Being an ally means you’re gonna get dirty, you might even get yourself stigmatized like us; but at least you’re doing the right thing.

Wages, Benefits, and Respect…oh my! (2008)


Here’s the facts: Temporary instructors earn less than fast food restaurant managers and slightly more than some of our students. The students don’t know the difference between a temporary worker and a full-time prof until I tell them this: Last year, I worked an average of 50 hours a week teaching, preparing lectures, holding office hours, and grading papers…I earned, for all these efforts, about $21,000 and zero benefits, save the two personal days we’re allotted each year. And I’m one of the lucky ones, privileged to be married to a guy who makes a decent income so I can do what I love. I think about my part-time colleagues, raising families as single parents, spouses laid off, some teaching 7 classes at three colleges and holding office hours when we are paid for only 4.5 hours a semester, literally, educators as grunts, working the front lines of this system.

We know the system doesn’t give a rat, many of us don’t expect it to…but our full-time colleagues, oh how it hangs in the air between us. Someone said to me recently, “You’ll see when you get a tenured position.” In other words, selling out is inevitable…but is it? So many of these folks are Boomers who fought for civil rights, labor rights…now they drive BMW’s and Mercedes and say they’re “too busy,” or “swamped” to share my concerns, what the hell happened? I’m Gen X, so let me tell you, they got a “taste.” And when you get a taste, the money, the status…it must all be too much…for some.

But back to my point…if we temps are treated unequally–and the pay and benefits are only a piece, lack of respect within the system is abundant–how does this affect students? though I love teaching, I think the tenure system and concurrent part-time pool work against student success. I know TENURE, what the hell am I thinking attacking that when I might have it some day? Usually, the words, “Would you give up your academic freedom?” follows this comment. Yes, we part-timers are limited in that area anyway but this is not an academic freedom issue, it is a labor issue.

The Ultimate Privilege

My mother would have called me a picky eater, if the term had been popular when I was a kid in the early 1980s; instead, people often said I was spoiled. I turned my nose up to onions, didn’t care for orange juice, and had a physical aversion to ground meat (that was my mother’s fault, though; she brainwashed me to believe, from a very young age, that ground meat was dirty). Many years later, and after a couple of near death experiences, I realized that my aversion to onions was actually an allergy and oranges cause anaphylactic response in me. It only takes a few times of not being able to breathe after inhaling orange vapor that the light bulb clicks on and you realize maybe you shouldn’t eat oranges. Or be near them. Or be in the same room when someone is peeling one.

Even my three children, as young as 4 years old, notify servers at restaurants, “no onions or oranges on my mom’s plate, please. She’s ‘lergic.”

Food allergy is real and deadly; don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

When I was a kid, food allergies were often seen as children being “spoiled” and ungrateful. They were terms I didn’t understand. I had violent physical reactions to certain foods; why would anyone think that I was “spoiled” if I didn’t like oranges because they made me vomit?

I know food allergies. Let me make this clear: the following is NOT about people with food allergies.

We’ve largely lost the term “spoiled” when describing a child who refuses to eat certain foods, mostly due to a better understanding of food allergies, and I would argue that that is a positive step forward for kids everywhere. But I’ve noticed a trend since my daughter was born almost 7 years ago that has made me rethink the phenomena of picky eaters. I used to think that picky eaters were like me: they didn’t like a certain food because they probably had an allergy or sensitivity to the food. But more recently, “picky eaters” seem to be everywhere, and at a much higher rate than what is statistically possible to account for food allergy. An estimated 1 in every 13 children in the U.S. has a mild to severe food allergy; in the real world, I see a much higher rate than that of children who refuse to eat certain, common foods in America. My theory about picky eaters having undiagnosed food allergies just doesn’t fit.

I’ve spent the last quarter century raising and feeding children. No, I am not a nutritionist, but I am a sociologist who studies the Sociology of Agriculture and Food; I watch for patterns in food consumption both at the macro and micro level. I’ve watched my kids and other children’s food habits long enough to notice different patterns.

My kids have fairly broad palates, despite my own issues with certain foods, and in fact, they’ll actually tease me about how tasty burgers are and laugh when I say, “no thanks!” They’ll eat everything from Octopus to hot dogs at the ball park, Brussels sprouts to beets and everything in between. I’m grateful that my kids have broad palates.

But in other kids, I see, what I would identify, as narrow eating patterns.

As example, my husband and I visited family members a few years ago and the only thing their 5 and 8 year old children would eat were things that were orange. And protein shakes. Grilled cheese sandwich? It’s orange: yes. Quesadilla? It’s orange: yes. Mac and cheese? Yep. Chicken nuggets? Of course, they’re orange, but only the ones that come frozen in bags. So while the parents and my family (except me, I just ate salad) ate amazing homemade meat loaf, the mom made grilled cheese sandwiches for the kids.

I thought this family was an anomaly, and then I started hearing stories and complaints from other families. Many of my friends with children report feeling like short order cooks, because they make different meals for each family member, every night, because no one will eat the same thing as another family member. Child only likes chicken nuggets and carrot sticks? That’s what he or she has every night. For a year. Narrow eating. 

Look at a child’s menu in most American restaurants and you’ll see the same, unhealthy items repeatedly, despite going to restaurants of varying national or ethnic origin. What are the most common menu items at major chain restaurants in the U.S.? Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, pizza, chicken tenders, french fries, and macaroni and cheese. Narrow eating.

But guess what? At home, children eat largely those same foods: pizza, chicken nuggets, and pasta (macaroni and cheese) are among the top ten most common foods children eat in America.

We’ve created a generation, or maybe two generations, of narrow palates where children and adults prefer to eat only a narrow scope of food, and because we live in the land of plenty, we have the ability to turn our noses up to other food.

A few years ago, I started feeling weird about this trend, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I felt so uncomfortable with children refusing to eat food that was offered to them in the course of a regular meal if they didn’t have allergies to that food. For what it’s worth, I do make accommodations for my kids, as long as they still eat what I serve at dinner. You don’t like ranch dressing on your salad? Fine, you get to choose your own dressing. But you’ll still eat the salad. And no, there is no other food option in the house.

A few nights ago, I served my family beef stew with cooked carrots, potatoes, and celery. As I set a plate of food in front of my nearly 7 year old daughter, a very interesting thing happened.

“Do I have to eat the carrots?” she asked me, her arm draped across her forehead in despair. I stopped serving the other plates, and had an epiphany moment and realized, ‘ah, this is why I am uncomfortable with children refusing food. This child is ungrateful. She is privileged, and is ungrateful.’ The thought occurred to me, ‘this is what it means to be spoiled. This is what everyone was talking about when I was a child. They didn’t realize certain food made me sick; they thought I was ungrateful for what was offered to me.”

That epiphany moment began several months ago, when I happened on a book I was reviewing for one of the classes I teach. I am interested in Southeast Asia, and so when looking for new books on the topic, found a memoir titled, When Broken Glass Floats. The book begins in Cambodia just prior to the Khmer Rouge occupation in the mid 1970s. For 5 years, the book follows a pre-teen girl as she is forced from her comfortable city life, into the work camps under the Khmer Rouge, and finally, to freedom. I thought I would learn about the politics of the Khmer Rouge, but instead, I learned about real privilege, or the lack thereof. The book is a testament to the will to survive, and a stark glimpse into the tactics of starvation and work used by the Khmer Rouge to control the people of Cambodia. It is a heartbreaking account of children stealing away from their huts in the middle of the night to hunt for food, of pilfering more broth to curb their growling stomachs, of praying for death to end the suffering. It is here, in these pages, that I cried at the thought of my own three children being worked and starved to death, separated from their family.

Slowly, we wade in, with both hands stretching the mosquito net open. The pan floats in front of the net, guided by the arching top of it. Our plan is to scoop the net up beneath the branches. The fish are usually there during the day when it’s hot. Under her breath, Ra whispers urgently to me to hand over the pan. After pushing the pan to Ra, I reach out to touch the dark shadow in the center of the net, wondering what we’ve caught.


“Prawns, lots of prawns!” Ra’s excited.


The thought of prawns lifts up my spirit. I can’t wait until we finish fishing. Hungry, Ra and I eat some. I grab a few from the pan and shove them in my mouth. They struggle, their tails flick against my tongue. Some are the size of my little finger. Others are bigger.

But it is also here that I saw how privileged we are, that we have a safe home, and abundant food. And that is a privilege.

My children will often try to bargain with me to not eat certain foods, and eat other food instead (“no carrots, but I’ll eat the potatoes, Mom”), and even decline healthy meals at home if they know they are headed to school, where they will be offered more palatable food. They know there will always be enough food, and so they decline food; that is privilege.

As my daughter stared disdainfully at the plate of food I had prepared for her, a plate that will likely never be empty, I contemplated how to respond to her.

I wanted to tell her, “Evelyn, darling, you are privileged. You are so privileged that your belly has never felt the real pangs of hunger, that you’ve never had to go without a meal, that you’ve never had to beg for food, that you have the choice of a hundred different items of food in our home. You are so privileged to live in a home where your parents have been privileged with the opportunities presented to them, so they could provide for you. You are so privileged, that you turn your nose up to food when millions of others would grovel for a bite, just one bite, of what you have.”

As I suppressed my urge to tell my daughter of her privilege, I realized that “picky” eating, narrow eating, is not picky at all: it is privileged. My children, and I, have the luxury of choosing not to eat, if the smell is off or the texture is wrong or the temperature is slightly too cold. There will always be more food to choose from either now or in the very near future. We are privileged.

“Evelyn, be grateful for what you have,” I tell my daughter, “others don’t have even this.” She stares at me uncertainly, picks at her food with her fork, and finally eats her carrots.

It is a privilege to reject that which would sustain life for others, and to look disdainfully on it, and be ungrateful in the face of it. That is the ultimate privilege.

The Order of the Eternal Social Conscience, Part 4

The Order of the Eternal Social Conscience, Part 4


A Ghostly Play in Five Acts


Karl Marx, of London, England

Max Weber, of Heidelberg, Germany

Emile Durkheim of Paris, France

W.E.B. DuBois of Atlanta, USA


Special Guest Appearance

Charles Dickens of London


As Narrated to Jerri Bedwell of California, USA

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Act 4



…Strictly in a business point of view… (A Christmas Carol)

            This perhaps the most haunting part of our tale when Scrooge, who by now we have come to sympathize with, learns what a mess he has made of his life and what his impact on others has been. He learns that those businessmen he tried to seem so upright for, barely acknowledged his passing.

            “He knew these men, also, perfectly. They were men of aye business: very wealthy, and of great importance. He had made a point always of standing well in their esteem: in a business point of view, that is; strictly in a business point of view.

            “How are you?” said one.

            “How are you?” returned the other.

            “Well!” said the first. “Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey.”

            “So I am told,” returned the second. “Cold, isn’t it.”

            “Seasonable for Christmas time. You’re not a skater, I suppose?”

            “No. No. Something else to think of. Good morning.”

            Not another word. That was their meeting, their conversation, and their parting.” (Dickens)

“The lessons, of having wasted his life and misused his power and influence are starting to set in” observes Weber:

            “This answer is indeed the single actual motivation, and it immediately renders obvious the irrationality, from the point of view of one’s personal happiness, of this way of organizing life: people live for their business rather then the reverse. (Weber, The Spirit of Capitalism, p. 31)

“The man is seeing the error of his ways,” ends Weber.

Dickens goes on to describe how those that take the most intimate care of Scrooge, upon learning of his death, take all that they can to sell, all the while gossiping and passing judgment on him. Scrooge still does not quite realize at this point — or perhaps doesn’t want to realize — that he is witnessing his own possible future. As he is confronted with his own shrouded corpse, you feel sorry for the grouchy old man and yet horrified when he asks the specter of the future:

“If there is any person in the town, who feels emotion caused by this man’s death,” said Scrooge quite agonised, “Ahow that person to me, Spirit, I beseech you.” (Dickens)

What does he receive as an answer to his request? He is taken to a family, who is able to take comfort in his death because they know whoever becomes their new creditor is likely to be kinder then Scrooge was. Scrooge learns of Tiny Tim’s death, and still he cannot accept his own passing until he is face to face with his grave. Then in a plea for his soul and his life, his sacred and profane selves, his desire to shed his evil misdeeds and make right to society he calls out:

            “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!” (Dickens)


Act 5

The Leaving


We must leave this place

            The thinkers postulate over whether or not one must face death for redemption, or if it is possible simply to learn from ones mistakes. They acknowledge that in Dickens’ tale, the transformation was complete for Ebenezer. They wish society and politicians and moguls could all undergo such transformations. The conversation continues as we begin to fade. We know that change is possible and that all is seldom lost. We know that Tim and Scrooge live long and happy lives and we feel blessed, every one of us. We have now become members of the Order, with our minds and hearts filled with knowledge. We must leave this parlor and make our own transformations happen.

The End


The PhD as an Existential Question???

Originally published here at e.com in August 2012. 

To PhD or not to PhD, that is that a question for you?  Well, at Ethnography.com we have years of unsolicited advice to those of wondering if all the uncertainties of grad school are for you or not.

For example those of you have lousy grades for any number of reasons, and question not your own capacity, but that of your chosen profession to give your application a second look, check out “Can Bad Grades and Graduate School Go Together?”  The answer of course is a resounding YES!  But it is not so YES! As if you had better grades.  But what is done is done, so push on.

But let’s say that you’re already in grad school, have a stellar g.p.a. and the luminaries of anthropology are throwing research assistantships, graduate fellowships, and closing in on the Master’s.  Is it ok to bail, and take another path? For you, too, we at Ethnography.com have.  Check out “Why I chose not to get a PhD” by one of our more erudite bloggers.

Or maybe you’re an adjunct faculty member, working in a community college or as a university lecturer. No matter how excellent a professor or how hard you work, you are treated as a second class citizen by tenured peers and administration alike. If this is you we here at e.com know your pain and alienation, our blogger Marianne Paiva writes about this in “Second-Class PhD.”

Finally, perhaps you are finally closing in on that PhD and realize that the brass ring of tenure track employment is perhaps just that—only made out of brass, and not gold.  Family, the job market, and life in general is keeping you from the step of casting yourself on the national or international job market, and your life is just fine where it is, thank you Herr Dr. Big Shot Major Professor! Let our blogger assure you that there is nothing inherently essential to life in “PhD or not PhD.”


Of the Passing of the First-Born by W. E. B. DuBois

Editor’s Note:  W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963) published The Souls of Black Folk in 1903.  It is a classic with respect to both general social theory, and race relations.  Here is reposted one of the most important of the stories in that book “Of the Passing of the First-Born” about the death of DuBois infant son Burghardt.  We of course recommend you read the whole book–it is in the public domain, and readily available on-line.  There are also excellent edited versions, which provide background for Dubois’ essays, each of which with a bit of poetry or song.  The edition I use in in class is an edited volume by Henry Louis Gates, which I recommend.  Many cheap versions can be found on-line and in bookstores.  The publisher’s link is here. TW.

O sister, sister, thy first-begotten,
The hands that cling and the feet that follow,
The voice of the child’s blood crying yet,
Who hath remembered me? who hath forgotten?
Thou hast forgotten, O summer swallow,
But the world shall end when I forget.

“UNTO you a child is born,” sang the bit of yellow paper that fluttered into my room one brown October morning. Then the fear of fatherhood mingled wildly with the joy of creation; I wondered how it looked and how it felt,—what were its eyes, and how its hair curled and crumpled itself. And I thought in awe of her,—she who had slept with Death to tear a man-child from underneath her heart, while I was unconsciously wandering. I fled to my wife and child, repeating the while to myself half wonderingly, “Wife and child? Wife and child?”—fled fast and faster than boat and steam-car, and yet must ever impatiently await them; away from the hard-voiced city, away from the flickering sea into my own Berkshire Hills that sit all sadly guarding the gates of Massachusetts.   1
  Up the stairs I ran to the wan mother and whimpering babe, to the sanctuary on whose altar a life at my bidding had offered itself to win a life, and won. What is this tiny formless thing, this new-born wail from an unknown world,—all head and voice? I handle it curiously, and watch perplexed its winking, breathing, and sneezing. I did not love it then; it seemed a ludicrous thing to love; but her I loved, my girl-mother, she whom now I saw unfolding like the glory of the morning—the transfigured woman.    2
  Through her I came to love the wee thing, as it grew and waxed strong; as its little soul unfolded itself in twitter and cry and half-formed word, and as its eyes caught the gleam and flash of life. How beautiful he was, with his olive-tinted flesh and dark gold ringlets, his eyes of mingled blue and brown, his perfect little limbs, and the soft voluptuous roll which the blood of Africa had moulded into his features! I held him in my arms, after we had sped far away to our Southern home,—held him, and glanced at the hot red soil of Georgia and the breathless city of a hundred hills, and felt a vague unrest. Why was his hair tinted with gold? An evil omen was golden hair in my life. Why had not the brown of his eyes crushed out and killed the blue?—for brown were his father’s eyes, and his father’s father’s. And thus in the Land of the Color-line I saw, as it fell across my baby, the shadow of the Veil.    3
  Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live,—a Negro and a Negro’s son. Holding in that little head—ah, bitterly!—the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand—ah, wearily!—to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty a lie. I saw the shadow of the Veil as it passed over my baby, I saw the cold city towering above the blood-red land. I held my face beside his little cheek, showed him the star-children and the twinkling lights as they began to flash, and stilled with an evensong the unvoiced terror of my life.    4
  So sturdy and masterful he grew, so filled with bubbling life so tremulous with the unspoken wisdom of a life but eighteen months distant from the All-life,—we were not far from worshipping this revelation of the divine, my wife and I. Her own life builded and moulded itself upon the child; he tinged her every dream and idealized her every effort. No hands but hers must touch and garnish those little limbs; no dress or frill must touch them that had not wearied her fingers; no voice but hers could coax him off to Dreamland, and she and he together spoke some soft and unknown tongue and in it held communion. I too mused above his little white bed; saw the strength of my own arm stretched onward through the ages through the newer strength of his; saw the dream of my black fathers stagger a step onward in the wild phantasm of the world; heard in his baby voice the voice of the Prophet that was to rise within the Veil.    5
  And so we dreamed and loved and planned by fall and winter, and the full flush of the long Southern spring, till the hot winds rolled from the fetid Gulf, till the roses shivered and the still stern sun quivered its awful light over the hills of Atlanta. And then one night the little feet pattered wearily to the wee white bed, and the tiny hands trembled; and a warm flushed face tossed on the pillow, and we knew baby was sick. Ten days he lay there,—a swift week and three endless days, wasting, wasting away. Cheerily the mother nursed him the first days, and laughed into the little eyes that smiled again. Tenderly then she hovered round him, till the smile fled away and Fear crouched beside the little bed.    6
  Then the day ended not, and night was a dreamless terror, and joy and sleep slipped away. I hear now that Voice at midnight calling me from dull and dreamless trance,—crying, “The Shadow of Death! The Shadow of Death!” Out into the starlight I crept, to rouse the gray physician,—the Shadow of Death, the Shadow of Death. The hours trembled on; the night listened; the ghastly dawn glided like a tired thing across the lamplight. Then we two alone looked upon the child as he turned toward us with great eyes, and stretched his string-like hands,—the Shadow of Death! And we spoke no word, and turned away.    7
  He died at eventide, when the sun lay like a brooding sorrow above the western hills, veiling its face; when the winds spoke not, and the trees, the great green trees he loved, stood motionless. I saw his breath beat quicker and quicker, pause, and then his little soul leapt like a star that travels in the night and left a world of darkness in its train. The day changed not; the same tall trees peeped in at the windows, the same green grass glinted in the setting sun. Only in the chamber of death writhed the world’s most piteous thing—a childless mother.    8
  I shirk not. I long for work. I pant for a life full of striving. I am no coward, to shrink before the rugged rush of the storm, nor even quail before the awful shadow of the Veil. But hearken, O Death! Is not this my life hard enough,—is not that dull land that stretches its sneering web about me cold enough,—is not all the world beyond these four little walls pitiless enough, but that thou must needs enter here,—thou, O Death? About my head the thundering storm beat like a heartless voice, and the crazy forest pulsed with the curses of the weak; but what cared I, within my home beside my wife and baby boy? Wast thou so jealous of one little coign of happiness that thou must needs enter there,—thou, O Death?    9
  A perfect life was his, all joy and love, with tears to make it brighter,—sweet as a summer’s day beside the Housatonic. The world loved him; the women kissed his curls, the men looked gravely into his wonderful eyes, and the children hovered and fluttered about him. I can see him now, changing like the sky from sparkling laughter to darkening frowns, and then to wondering thoughtfulness as he watched the world. He knew no color-line, poor dear,—and the Veil, though it shadowed him, had not yet darkened half his sun. He loved the white matron, he loved his black nurse; and in his little world walked souls alone, uncolored and unclothed. I—yea, all men—are larger and purer by the infinite breadth of that one little life. She who in simple clearness of vision sees beyond the stars said when he had flown, “He will be happy There; he ever loved beautiful things.” And I, far more ignorant, and blind by the web of mine own weaving, sit alone winding words and muttering, “If still he be, and he be There, and there be a There, let him be happy, O Fate!”   10
  Blithe was the morning of his burial, with bird and song and sweet-smelling flowers. The trees whispered to the grass, but the children sat with hushed faces. And yet it seemed a ghostly unreal day,—the wraith of Life. We seemed to rumble down an unknown street behind a little white bundle of posies, with the shadow of a song in our ears. The busy city dinned about us; they did not say much, those pale-faced hurrying men and women; they did not say much,—they only glanced and said, “Niggers!”   11
  We could not lay him in the ground there in Georgia, for the earth there is strangely red; so we bore him away to the northward, with his flowers and his little folded hands. In vain, in vain!—for where, O God! beneath thy broad blue sky shall my dark baby rest in peace,—where Reverence dwells, and Goodness, and a Freedom that is free?   12
  All that day and all that night there sat an awful gladness in my heart,—nay, blame me not if I see the world thus darkly through the Veil,—and my soul whispers ever to me, saying, “Not dead, not dead, but escaped; not bond, but free.” No bitter meanness now shall sicken his baby heart till it die a living death, no taunt shall madden his happy boyhood. Fool that I was to think or wish that this little soul should grow choked and deformed within the Veil! I might have known that yonder deep unworldly look that ever and anon floated past his eyes was peering far beyond this narrow Now. In the poise of his little curl-crowned head did there not sit all that wild pride of being which his father had hardly crushed in his own heart? For what, forsooth, shall a Negro want with pride amid the studied humiliations of fifty million fellows? Well sped, my boy, before the world had dubbed your ambition insolence, had held your ideals unattainable, and taught you to cringe and bow. Better far this nameless void that stops my life than a sea of sorrow for you.   13
  Idle words; he might have borne his burden more bravely than we,—aye, and found it lighter too, some day; for surely, surely this is not the end. Surely there shall yet dawn some mighty morning to lift the Veil and set the prisoned free. Not for me,—I shall die in my bonds,—but for fresh young souls who have not known the night and waken to the morning; a morning when men ask of the workman, not “Is he white?” but “Can he work?” When men ask artists, not “Are they black?” but “Do they know?” Some morning this may be, long, long years to come. But now there wails, on that dark shore within the Veil, the same deep voice, Thou shalt forego! And all have I foregone at that command, and with small complaint,—all save that fair young form that lies so coldly wed with death in the nest I had builded.   14
  If one must have gone, why not I? Why may I not rest me from this restlessness and sleep from this wide waking? Was not the world’s alembic, Time, in his young hands, and is not my time waning? Are there so many workers in the vineyard that the fair promise of this little body could lightly be tossed away? The wretched of my race that line the alleys of the nation sit fatherless and unmothered; but Love sat beside his cradle, and in his ear Wisdom waited to speak. Perhaps now he knows the All-love, and needs not to be wise. Sleep, then, child,—sleep till I sleep and waken to a baby voice and the ceaseless patter of little feet—above the Veil.


Ethnography, Stigma, and Protecting a Potentially Spoiled Identity

Originally published here at e.com in April 2007. It’s one of my favorites and still makes me laugh out loud, I hope you enjoy it too. -Julie

This blog is about why ethnographer Erving Goffman’s observation of stigma are important not just to ex-cons, but also to professors like me on foreign exchange programs. Goffman, as many sociologists and anthropologists know, observed the maneuvers of the marginalized and stigmatized in society, and then wrote about how they thought about their disability. He saw that the marginalized were constantly managed their spoiled social identities because they feared public exposure of their disability. To make his point he wrote about ex-cons, ex-mental patients, prostitutes and others. Such stigmatized people, he wrote, are acutely conscious that at any moment any pretense they maintain of being a “normal person” can be unceremoniously disclosed. Mental patients, ex-cons, and prostitutes always wonder if a passing person knows them from their “other” life, simply recognizes the habits and tics they carry with them from that life. What this creates is a “hyper-vigilance” on the part of the stigmatized as they move through their daily routines. They watch everything, and are always wary. To control the stress, the stigmatized avoid situations where they are easily exposed—they fear being the fool, humiliated, or even attacked. Their greatest desire is to be socially invisible, even as they move through the necessary routines of daily life.

In fact, I was mulling over Goffman’s wisdom when walking to the bus stop on my way home two weeks ago. My mind though switched off when I realized that once again, as it is with many new American residents of Germany, I needed to manage my identity with respect to my highly imperfect, ungrammatical, and accented German. I can of course manage this by remaining mute in many social situations. This is surprisingly easy in places like supermarket checkout lines where the numbers on the cash register, hand gestures, and smiles help me pass without disclosing my stigmatized status. But finding the right bus home creates higher risks of disclosure than the supermarket checkout line.

Because I have yet to master bus schedules, I arrived thirty minutes early at my stop that day. Not wanting to stay on my feet, I spied an almost empty bench—only one fellow there to ask “permission” to share. I did this with hand motions, eye contact, a nod, the universal “ok,” and then scrunched into the furthest corner possible from my fellow bench warmer. Terrified at the thought that my bench mate would initiate a conversation, I took the only English language book in my backpack out (Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, no less) and buried my nose into it. This was effective, and the man sharing my bench ignored me. But five minutes later we were approached by an older man who politely asked if the spot between us was “free.” I nodded, smiled, motioned, and grunted, protected once again from having to say anything. But the situation was now more hazardous. There were now three of us on the bench sitting uncomfortably close, and the potential for being unmasked as a linguistic incompetent had uncomfortably increased.

Anyway, I soon decided I wasn’t that tired anyway, and got up and wandered back to the bus stop, even though I was still 15 minutes early. There I leaned against a post, and again tried to bury my nose back in my book. Soon though, I was distracted by what happened next at the bus bench. A woman with dogs on leashes came up. One of the dogs started to sniff at the older man’s bag. There was a brief exchange, and then the woman with the dogs went on. The older man then stood up, picked up his bag, and walked over to where I was standing and then, horror of horrors, he began talking to me. I more or less understood what he said, but could only muster the barest of responses:

Man: Did you see those dogs? They sniffed through my bags!
Me: Grunt.
Man: People should control their dogs, shouldn’t they!
Me: Grunt.
Man: Don’t you think it is an invasion of privacy that dogs will sniff through my bags?
Me: Certainly.

Thankfully, the bus then arrived, resulting in a change of subject. We got on the bus, and then further horrors, he sat near me! What would I do? Too nervous for Max Weber, my hyper-vigilance sensors went up, and I studiously avoided his occasionally friendly gaze, fearing that my incompetence could be further revealed. In this context, I bolted for the door when five minutes later we arrived at the place where I needed to transfer buses. I rushed off the bus, eager to re-embrace the anonymity that would be available on the next bus. But then things became worse. The man was following me onto the bus—he was going in the same direction I was!

With relief, I saw him settled with his bag into a seat far from mine. But still my anxiety did not dissipate until I reached my final stop ten minutes later. Off I stepped, and finally regained my anonymity as just another normal person, anonymous and obscure on a busy German street.

Such hyper-vigilance is exhausting, but also routine when you are a discreditable minority of any kind. Goffman’s mental patients, ex cons, prostitutes, and others were always aware that someone from their former life will strip away the sense of normalcy they desired . But the same principles applies to foreigners in all places, linguistic minorities, ethnic minorities, racial minorities and others who fear a part of their identity will unceremoniously at any time subject them to ridicule, or a loss of honor.

Like the ex-con and mental patients, I seek the comfort of blending and belonging while here in Germany, something I take for granted at Chico State. The sad thing for me was that as a result, I passed up language learning opportunities on my bus ride. In retrospect, I know that I should have bravely plowed ahead, and attempted a conversation with both my fellow bench warmers. After all, intellectually I know that Germans are almost always unfailingly kind to foreigners attempting to learn their language. I know too that it is educationally correct to have a conversation with the two men at the bench, rather than avoiding them. It would also have been enriching to engage the man the one who “followed” me on my two bus rides in small talk about the weather, dogs, his bag, or anything else. I didn’t of course because I value the anonymity of being normal more. As a result, I hid my stigma behind props like Max Weber’s book, and avoid the random encounters of social life which in English, I often delight in.

Both sociologists and anthropologists glamorize the intellectual stimulation of the cross-cultural experience I am having. I still believe it is glamorous, and I will continue to encourage students to go abroad and study languages. But there is another value to study abroad experiences, particularly for students who are from the default normative category of their own country. At Chico State, this includes me, as well as the many middle class suburban white students in my undergraduate classes. But studying abroad is also about becoming an outsider who will evaluate every potential social encounter for its capacity to strip away the comfortable anonymity we gain when we hang with people like us. My chance to be an exchange scholar in Germany is of course partly glamorous. But my story is also the one that Goffman wrote about. I am sure that in one year, I will speak better German, and the memories of my constant hyper-vigilance dissipate. But in the meantime, I look forward to the mental exhaustion of both language learning, and stigma management.

For what it is worth, I sleep more here in Germany despite the pleasant Fall weather. Hyper-vigilance is mentally exhausting!


Goffman, Erving. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity.

Why Community College is Still the Best Bet for Working Class Students

This originally appeared on the Working-Class perspectives blog at this link. Given the continuing stigma of community college education, it’s important we support community college students. You can read more about the community college/real college divide here.

Recently, a friend asked me whether I’d encourage my own children (if I had them) to attend a community college, the system where I teach sociology. I said “yes” immediately, but I know what thoughts lay behind her question. She was alluding to my grumbling about research that I’d been reading that suggests working-class institutions such as community colleges may not be the best place for working-class students. Though I initially said “yes” to my friend’s question, the more honest answer is “maybe.” I feel guilty saying this, but I feel ambivalent. I am a proud community college graduate, and teaching at a community college is wonderful, but the community college does have problems that make me wonder whether we are doing right by working-class students and upholding our mission to create pathways to success.

The research around student success suggests that community colleges do not challenge students and have low expectations. In the status hierarchy of higher ed, this means community college classes are perceived as “easier,” or less academically rigorous. Moreover, research shows that students who transfer from community colleges have frighteningly low graduation rates from four-year schools — an average of just 36% complete a four-year degree within 6 years. The analysis implies that the low graduation rate might be because community colleges do not foster cultures of achievement and that students do not feel motivated to succeed.

I cannot argue with the facts, much as they frustrate me, but there are other things going on. For example, many of these schools, like mine, have limited funds available to cover the costs of their expanding enrollments, even though, the California State University system has raised their fees and limited their enrollment for the next semester…again. That creates problems with class size, among other things. In my little notch of the world, increasing enrollment means that I will allow more students than I should to add my classes.

For about the past three years, community college faculty in California have received an email at the beginning of every semester about managing the increasing number of students in our classrooms. We’re encouraged to “hang in there” and understand that the system does not have additional funds to support these extra students. Lack of funding also means we are offering fewer sections of courses and less variety of courses, even as we enroll more students.

There will be heavy competition for seats the first week of school, which makes me worry that working-class students trying to add classes at the last minute but who can’t pay their tuition immediately might lose seats to someone who can pay that day. Whatever their reason for being there—to prepare to transfer to a four-year for a degree or for workforce development—the majority of students trying to get in need my class because their class schedules must be just so, to fit in between work and family responsibilities. Schedules that “fit” are important.

I worry about options for working-class students. I am concerned about low graduation rates, large class sizes, and rising fees, but I disagree with much of the research about the quality of community college education. First, it is a myth that classes at a community college are easier and that teachers have lower expectations then at a four-year university. I teach the same intro sociology course at the community college and the local four-year university, and students’ grades are similar in both groups.

Because community colleges serve a more diverse body of students, from those who want to transfer to a four-year school to students who want to learn to read better or gain job skills, people assume that we must have lower standards. We serve all levels of preparedness, but we are seen as less academic than our university neighbors are. The reality is that community colleges offer several levels of rigor, from honors courses to developmental reading and math. Students with lopsided skill sets–for example, proficient in math but not English–catch up in one area while taking more challenging courses in another.

Second, community college instructors focus on teaching instead of research, which is part of why we are not defined as “scholars” in the eyes of the system. For the academically vulnerable working-class student, however, this means more one-on-one time and an emphasis on the student-teacher relationship, which research suggests may have more of an effect on long-term student success than anything else we teachers do. Many students have written me after transferring to say how much they miss their relationships with their community college instructors not because four-year profs are “mean,” but because they have different responsibilities that leave less time for chatting about personal lives and asking about family.

Finally, the community college costs considerably less than a four-year school, which makes it easier for students to access education. Our slogan could be, “We’re ready when you are,” but that is not academic enough. Still, for working-class students, the community college is a valued cost saving option, students can graduate or transfer after two years with very little or no student loan debt. Yes, some students graduate/transfer from a two-year without debt, they piece together money from work, a grant or scholarship, and do a lot of financial juggling, but they do it and are proud to say so. When my colleagues from the four-year school wonder why their working-class students are “so stressed” all the time or miss school because they cannot miss work I think, “They don’t get it, but we do.”

In spite of my ambivalence, I say “yes,” I would encourage my hypothetical child to attend a community college and my main reason is simple: we get it. We teach students the same material but the education costs less and the teachers want to build relationships with our students. For the working class, community college is a first step, a pathway to improving one’s position; a practical choice in the midst of record high unemployment rates and ever-decreasing labor options for high school graduates. The success of working-class students is influenced by the academic culture and the kind of connections they make. Despite the community colleges’ institutional woes, those of us that teach there know that it is in the day-to-day interactions, calling students by name and lingering for after class conversations, that we create pathways to success.

Mother Hens and Nice Girls: How Gender and Class Show Up at Work

“My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating graces, and viewing them as if they were in a perpetual state of childhood, unable to stand alone.” -Mary Wollstonecraft

Since writing about class and feminism here a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been booked to present at a couple of places about conflict between women co-workers, which was the topic of my thesis research way back when. Nowadays, I work as a diversity trainer and workplace consultant, helping solve problems and training employers and employees about workplace bullying. I’ve worked a lot of different jobs with different wages and occupational statuses but one thing remains mostly constant, a bullying co-worker, a jerk boss, or a dysfunctional department (I was an academic too) affects worker behavior and motivation. Internal conditions such as co-worker relations, working conditions, and job security matter as much as earnings and in some cases, even more.

I had two questions when I started this: do women experience more conflict with other women at work and why do women say that they don’t like working for other women? I wondered this at a time when women were setting records for degree attainment, especially professional degrees and PhD’s (140 women graduate for every 100 men). If women are earning more college degrees than men are, how could women avoid having a woman for a boss and why would she want to?

It turns out that gender socialization and normative expectations for feminine behavior influence women’s approach to conflict. It wasn’t that they had more conflict than men co-workers, more that there were different expectations of women at work, particularly in low wage pink-collar service work that requires intensive emotional labor. But work is a micro-interactional space where social expectations of the self and others are a reflection of the larger culture. Cultural ideas influence women and convey the message that they should get along, that it is natural and required for women to feel unity with other women. Insofar as the workplace is considered, this means that women place great emphasis on the normative behavior of their women co-workers (and their women bosses).

The most important thing for women at work is to be regarded as a nice person. Feminine norms associated with behaving in a nice or friendly manner influence the technique women use to negotiate peer relationships and manage co-worker conflict. The major typology suggests that in a general way, niceness, that is acting nice or being perceived as a nice woman, is both a technique for avoiding conflict and a source of conflict among women and that “being nice,” whether toward co-workers or clientele, is a key measure of a co-worker’s value that can go up or down according to perception. The other typology, mother-henning, relates to the concept of performing niceness as a specific technique for negotiating conflict among peers.

A caring, but controlling woman is a cultural identity common enough to provide an image of the mother hen, a woman who takes care of others in an overprotective or interfering way, a seemingly selfless helper. Performing the role of the caring mother of others is an interactional strategy women use with co-workers to maintain a normative sense of feminine power (power that is not openly threatening). In organizational settings, mother-henning is a means to avoid direct conflict by assuming an impression of solidarity and nurturance towards co-workers in order to express indirect power.

The importance of being perceived as a nice co-worker brings the discussion back around to the idea that how women negotiate conflict is shaped by cultural ideologies like ‘sisterhood.’ Feeling the pressure to get along with other women regardless of treatment (by co-workers or the boss) speaks to the message of the Red Tent: That women share a common bond that is natural and different from men and because of this, experience harmonious relations. Because of broad ideas about how women should get along, there is a sense that one must “be nice” no matter how she feels or risk being thought of as a catty or mean woman.

In many cases, the women I interviewed seemed to feel more comfortable with avoiding conflict.  The literature however, suggests that women’s avoiding conflict is dysfunctional, a result of poor socialization and an inability to manage emotions. This idea has implications in the discussion of feminine norms, conflict, and pink-collar service work.

Getting by in pink-collar jobs is different from jobs that provide autonomy and creativity. Though they can be physically demanding, the primacy of service work involves performing nice, friendly, and caring emotions. Performing such emotions influence how women experience themselves and other women at work and encourage the effort to present an idealized impression of the self in conflictual interactions. Because of this, women (in professional jobs too) tend to perform more “office housework,” that is, anything from volunteering to take meeting notes or picking up supplies to buying birthday cards and cake for co-workers. This type of kin keeping that women do at work is additional, unpaid, and often unavoidable. What happens if a woman says, “No, I’m too busy”? Especially if she is a temporary or “at-will” employee.

When women work in jobs with autonomy—having a private office, coming and going with minimal supervision, along with benefits and a salary wage—it is possible to ignore the public performance and develop direct styles of conflict management because the professional structure allows for it. I only interviewed two women in the category of service professional, but both Jill and Susan made statements about the importance of being able to “shut the door” and hence, shut out conflict. There is more agency and personal freedom in professional jobs, office housework or no.

In jobs that require a friendly, kind, and caring ‘workface’ however, the pressure of the performance is always present in the interactional space because the service-oriented structure expects it. Saying ‘no” or refusing to nurture and help is less of an option for pink-collar workers. In this way, women working in the pink-collar world do their jobs within a structure that creates, maintains, and reinforces those essentialist norms that construct women’s identities as nice, helpful caregivers.