In Hot Pursuit of Happiness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 21/05/2018 - 11:20pm in


neuroscience, work

Although they are in hot pursuit of happiness, psychologists and neuroscientists do not always clarify the degree to which happiness is primarily a cultural or scientific concept.

Book Review: Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy by Richard E. Ocejo

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 14/05/2018 - 9:00pm in

In Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, Richard E. Ocejo explores four traditionally working-class jobs – barbering, bartending, distilling and butchery – that have been increasingly redefined as hip, high-status and ‘middle-class’ for a number of urban workers today. Though the backdrop of gentrification, deindustrialisation and class hierarchy are not examined in depth, Padraic X. Scanlan finds this a careful, focused ethnographic study that succeeds in conveying the rituals and norms of these new-old workplaces and the transformation of contemporary urban labour. 

Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy. Richard E. Ocejo. Princeton University Press. 2018.

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Sam Mature, a Chicago barber, was one of the dozens of Americans that Studs Terkel interviewed for Working, his collection of oral histories published in 1974. Working (subtitled ‘people talk about what they do all day and how they feel about what they do’) exalts everyday life. Every kind of work has something to teach us. Mature told Terkel about the craft of cutting hair and about the hierarchy of a barber shop, about the way junior barbers rented chairs and paid respects to the master barber. Barbers also needed to learn the art of talking to customers – how to be contrarian about sports and keep quiet about politics. Mature didn’t like to be tipped after he gave a haircut. ‘A doctor you don’t give him a tip. He’s a professional man,’ he explained. ‘Well, a barber is a professional man too. So I don’t think you should tip him.’

Cutting hair is skilled work, but it is a manual labour. Mature took pride in his work, but he knew that cutting hair wasn’t a high-class job. ‘If I had a son’, he said, ‘I’d want him to be more than just a barber’. But to survive in twenty-first century American cities, some barbers have gentrified. In Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, Richard E. Ocejo, an urban sociologist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explores four traditionally working-class jobs – barbering, bartending, distilling and butchery – that a small cohort of workers in New York have redefined as hip, high-status and ‘middle-class’. Ocejo embeds himself as an intern in a whole-animal butcher shop and in a small-batch distillery. He spends hours observing bartenders at a soigné cocktail bar and at an upscale men’s barbershop. Ocejo argues that in these workplaces, workers are able to transform their labour into a kind of ‘knowledge-work’, selling not only goods and services, but also cultural cachet and expertise to a wealthy urban clientele. Ocejo unpacks the rituals and norms of each workplace and examines the patterns of work common to all four jobs.

Masters of Craft is primarily about the dynamics of workplaces, and it is at its strongest when Ocejo is immersed in the specific rituals and exchanges of production and customer service. He anatomises how, for example, small-batch distillers try to shape the public’s taste for booze by reviving old styles of production, and how whole-animal butchers persuade customers to buy, cook and appreciate unconventional cuts of meat. At Death & Co., the Manhattan cocktail bar where many of the bartenders Ocejo observes and interviews worked, there is no written menu. Bartenders work to shape their customers’ tastes – if a customer wants a martini, it is an opportunity to demonstrate the wide range of variations of the basic gin-and-vermouth; if a customer doesn’t have a drink in mind, the bartender shapes their tastes.

Image Credit: (Olatz eta Leire CC BY SA 2.0)

If the idea of a bar without menus or listed prices, where cocktails come with a chaser of tasting notes, provokes a spasm of inchoate but profound anxiety and despair, Masters of Craft might be difficult to swallow. Still, there is something satisfying, like a Robin Hood story, about manual workers celebrating and elevating their work, clawing back respect – and cash – from wealthy transplants, in defiance of the sky-high property values and crumbling rent controls that drive demand for the ‘authenticity’ that they erode. But most of the workers Ocejo profiles are educated and relatively well-to-do. They aren’t rising into the middle class by asserting the prestige of their work; they are moving laterally. ‘Pleasure in’, Ocejo writes, ‘and deriving meaning […] underlies work in the postindustrial era’. He identifies most of the workers he profiles as ‘drifters.’ By this he means that many did not pursue a particular career before moving into craft-work; they moved from office job to office job. ‘Drifters,’ Ocejo writes, ‘hold a unique position in the new economy’ and move into hip service jobs to find meaning in manual work that they couldn’t find in a cubicle. Ocejo’s drifters, mostly men, are also looking for a space in which to perform a very traditional masculinity: a hoary fantasy that ‘working with your hands’ might be a tonic against a putatively emasculating modernity. Work should be satisfying, but having the security to wager a livelihood on finding meaningful, rather than simply remunerative, work is the privilege of a minority. The implosion of industrial work has made plenty of people into drifters, but most of them aren’t mixing craft cocktails, finding pleasure in a world of thrumming insecurity.

As a work of careful, focused sociology, Masters of Craft succeeds in framing the ways workers in ‘old jobs in the new urban economy’ have redefined their labour. But Ocejo’s assertion that the jobs he studies are ‘middle-class’ invites a discussion of wider social forces that is mostly absent from the book. In the introduction, Ocejo skims through the history of American deindustrialisation and urban gentrification to set the scene. But these processes are dynamic and ongoing.

Masters of Craft also doesn’t have much to say about class, as such, or about the economic life and nickel-and-dime realities of new-old workplaces. How much do high-end barbers, butchers and bartenders make? Do they have families to support? Do they make their rent? Do they resent their managers or their subordinates? Ocejo remarks on the ‘masculine’ banter of the barbers he studies – who drives the biggest car, who is henpecked at home, who can demonstrate the most stoic good humour when the other barbers ‘talk shit’. These are straight and male spaces; how do they feel for everyone else? Ocejo, more interested in the minutiae of work, leaves a lot on the table. There is a moment, late in the book, where Ocejo narrates the firing and re-hiring of Aldo, one of the two Mexican-born master butchers at Dickson’s, the butcher shop where Ocejo worked as an intern and where most of the employees are white Americans. (As a side note, unpaid internships in manual labour are another marker of ‘old jobs in the new economy’ that Ocejo leaves unexamined.) The owner of the shop explains that Aldo was fired because he and two other butchers were ‘feeling like they were untouchable, too much horsing around’. Clearly, there are limits to the license that craft knowledge grants the people who possess it, but Ocejo does not show where they are or how they are policed.

The idea of uniqueness and ‘authenticity’ is something that these workplaces strive for, but also a product that they sell. The distillery Ocejo studies hand-numbers and hand-writes the labels for its spirits, and deliberately cultivates an aesthetic of rustic inconsistency in their products. And yet, the commercial success of ‘handmade’ and ‘artisanal’ products has birthed a snake that eats its own tail: the inconsistency of ‘artisan-made’ stuff is very easy to reproduce on an industrial scale. For example, Etsy, the crafting website and commercial platform, sells both hand-crafted goods and mass-produced just-in-time versions of bestselling items marketed as handmade.

In the men’s barbershop, Ocejo observes that ‘barbers talk, clients remain silent’. The barbers banter – like Mature did in the 1960s and 1970s – but not with their clients, who have paid a premium for the experience of being in a barbershop. Ocejo describes a rare African American client at the shop – another mostly unexamined glimmer of a wider social reality – who actually jokes around with the barbers, because he grew up going to black barbershops, where sociability remained part of the experience of getting a haircut. That he is the only client Ocejo observes who participates in the homosocial world of the shop strikes me as incredibly poignant. I’m glad that some people have been able to find satisfying work in a fracturing world. But there is a background hiss of joyless isolation and consumption audible in the silences of Masters of Craft. ‘Old jobs in the new economy’ sell relief from a profound and depressing alienation, as customers pay a premium to experience a community that they had a hand in destroying.

Padraic X. Scanlan is Assistant Professor in the Department of International History at the LSE, and the author of Freedom’s Debtors: British Antislavery in Sierra Leone in the Age of Revolution (Yale, 2017). He is on Twitter @pxscanlan. Read more by Padraic X. Scanlan.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Odd Jobs in the City

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/05/2018 - 10:55am in


Time, work

In 1950, the Smith’s Weekly newspaper published a series of profiles of city workers titled ‘Men in Odd Jobs’. The first article appeared in July, profiling Mr J.A. Sinclair, who spent his days testing lawn bowls for accuracy. Next readers met a skeleton articulator at the Australian Museum. Then a man who drills holes in buttons: Mr Ern Sheather who confides that “drilling holes in buttons is soothing to the nerves”. In September, under the headline He Frightens Spiders, was the story of an instrument maker who places spider webs in the theodolites used by surveyors for measuring angles.

Reading these articles now is to imagine a city where such obscure pastimes had cause to exist: a man could spend his working days creating bows for ladies shoes, or changing the dates on the stamps used for franking mail. Job satisfaction in these roles was generally high. Mr Desmond Russell found a job that suited him in turning mail bags inside out and, in the final article of the series, in the final edition of Smiths in October 1950, Mr Leslie Stanley, cable joiner, praised the “interesting and absorbing” work he did laying cables underneath the city streets. The job could also be entertaining, as he was able to overhear conversations from the street above through the manholes. The article quotes Mr Stanley:

One day two men were standing outside the Commonwealth Bank in Pitt Street, when one of them dropped his keys down an open grate. He was in a terrible state, and began to wonder how he would carry on his work.

His friend said it would be possible to get police to remove the grate. Just as they began to panic, my mate poked the keys back through the grate with two fingers.

The men stopped talking and gaped at the fingers with the keys dangling. They couldn’t see us below, but we could see them in the daylight.

One man said: ‘Look, a human hand and alive.’ The other snatched the keys with out saying a word and went for his life.

I can imagine this was a story Mr Stanley told often, relishing the description of the fingers poking up through the manhole, working up to the delivery of the “Look, it’s a human hand and alive!” punchline.

Another method of retrieving keys, 1942 (photo National Library of Australia)

There are fourteen “odd jobs” stories in all. Of these, four relate to postal and telephone services. In addition to the Inside-Out-Bag Turner, the man who maintains the machine that produces the dial-tone, the franking-stamp changer, and the man who opens the door of the vault in the Bank of NSW, is the one woman featured in the series, Miss Mary Sprague.

Miss Sprague had the unusual job of reading the time live at the Sydney GPO, which housed the city’s central telephone switchboard. Before the installation of a mechanical ‘speaking clock’ in 1954, the job was done by a group of women who took turns in sitting in front of a clock, reciting the time into a microphone. Miss Mary Sprague explained how the intensity of the task made it difficult to read for more than 20 minutes at a time.

I’d never thought that such a job as time-reading would have been done live, but in the days before digital timekeeping it could be difficult to maintain accurate time on mechanical clocks and watches. When people wanted to check if their watch was correct, they called the service, dialling BO74. Up to 20,000 people would call daily and it was particularly busy around 5pm, as people hoped their watches were running slowly, and the time to leave work had already come.

The article on Mary Sprague was the first of the “odd jobs” series I read. I found it while researching an essay I’ve written for Time and Memory, a new book published by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences. A few months after I read the article about Mary Sprague in Smiths Weekly, I was doing a reading at the Paragon Cafe in Katoomba. I mentioned the essay I was writing to Robyn, the cafe owner.

“Wouldn’t you believe it”, I said, “women at the GPO used to read the time live!”

“You’ll have to speak to our friend Joyce,” Robyn said, “she used to do that job.”

Speak to Joyce I did indeed, and you can read my interview with her at Reading the Time with Joyce Thomson, on the museum’s blog. When I spoke to Joyce, who is now in her 80s, she described how it had felt to move to the city, from Katoomba, as a young woman in the late 1940s. The scale of life opened up for her and there were possibilities all around. By reading the time at the GPO she joined the ranks of those in the city doing an unusual job. Now, like most of the jobs that Smiths Weekly reported on in 1950, this job has slipped from public knowledge, long-since having been technologically superseded. But just enough of a trace of it exists, for it to be remembered.

Dismantling the welfare state – the case of the Dutch disabled

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 13/05/2018 - 4:19am in


disability, Labor, work

Many scholars, journalists and commentators have written how in many (all?) European welfare states government-based systems of support and solidarity are being restructured, scaled down, or eliminated. One common ideological basis in all those reforms is the view that people should be made maximally self-reliant and, if need be, families should support other family members in need – hence this would justify a cut-back of state involvement. The European welfare states have always been something most Europeans have been proud of – the idea that civilisation implies that we collectively care for the most vulnerable people in our political community, and that we collectively pool risks that, if left to the market, would lead to some people paying much more to secure those risks than others.

In several countries, the reforms are targeting the income- and labour market support systems for the disabled. In the Netherlands, this has now taken a really ugly turn, as was very well described in an article (in Dutch) by Gijs Herderscheê and Sheila Sitalsing, which was published today in De Volkskrant.

The previous coalition consisted of the labour party PvdA and the conservative party VVD (in the Netherlands they are called “liberals” but the party mainly consists of conservatives and/or those putting the interests of the markets and businesses first. Those who are liberals in that party are not social-liberals or liberal-egalitarians, but rather classical liberals). That coalition ended the possibility for citizens who have been disabled from birth to receive a life-long allowance which would keep them out of poverty (the reason being that too much use was made of it). The new policy expects disabled citizens (except those who have absolutely zero earning capacity) to find a job on the regular labour market, and the difference between their estimated “productivity-reflecting earning capacity” (hence the market-clearing wage) and the minimum wage would be paid for by the government. Some employers apparently complained about the paperwork that needed to be done. Yet another issue raised was that most disabled didn’t find a job at all – according to some estimates about 30.000 young adults currently leaving special needs education are neither working, nor in traning or school, nor are they entitled to any allowances. Guess twice who is picking up that tab, and guess twice what this does to those young lives.

So last year came the new government – still with the VVD in the driving seat, yet this time without the labour party, and instead an odd combination of the centrist liberal party D66, the centrist Christian-Democratic party CDA, and the leftist Orthodox Christian party Christen Unie. This new government wants to take the dismantling one step further – and is again targeting the most vulnerable, those who are disabled (not sure how the Christians in this coalition are explaining that to their fellow church-goers, but hey, after having been through 16 years of Catholic education I may still be wrong about what the Bible preaches).

The new proposal entails that the minimum-wage legislation will no longer hold for the employment contract of those disabled “with lower productivity”. The employer only has to pay the wage that is taken to reflect the productivity – would could be any percentage (well below 100) of the minimum wage. The worker can then apply to the state for the amount equalling the difference between the wage earned and welfare-benefit level. This implies at least five major deteriorations in the situation of the disabled workers.

First, the level of welfare-benefits is lower than the level of the legal minimum-wage. Many disabled workers who will keep doing the same work will experience a decrease in their income.

Second, the disabled have to do the paper-work to apply for the difference between the market-clearing wage and the welfare-benefits. Many disabled workers have either issues with their cognitive abilities, or have poor executive skills, or other issues that make it hard for them to do this paperwork. If the employers are complaining that they don’t want to do the paperwork, why should we burden the disadvantaged with it?

Third, in order to qualify for welfare benefits, one is not allowed to have personal savings above a very low threshold. One could argue that this is justified for those who need to make use of welfare benefits for a short period in their lives; but for the permanently disabled, this implies that they will never be able to raise above the poverty-line, and given that everybody at some point in their lives experiences some form of brute luck or makes a costly mistake, it will make them very vulnerable for falling into poverty. It is cruel not to allow people to try to save up a little bit in order for them to qualify for income-replacement that, in my view, they are entitled to on grounds of social justice, poverty alleviation and human decency.

Fourth, under this new regime, the disabled workers would no longer be able to save for their pensions to the same extent as before, since there are no pension contributions being paid for welfare support payments. They will only be saving for pensions for the ‘market-wage’ part of their income, not for the welfare-support part, whereas under the current system the employer pays pension contributions for the first part, and the state for the part that matches the gap up to the minimum wage. All other employees working for the legal minimum wage are saving for their pension – but apparently this government has decided that for the disabled there is no need to save the same amount for their old age. Quite logical, right?

Fifth, it is an insult to the disabled since they are not treated the same as other vulnerable workers who are non-disabled. That is also the argument that has been stressed by a group of disabled activists who have started a petition to ask the government to not adopt this policy.

As Herderscheê and Sitalsing rightly conclude their article, the additional worry is that once the disabled workers are under this worse regime, other vulnerable groups will follow, such as those trying to move from welfare benefits to a job. If one lets loose the principle that the legal minimum applies to all workers, then what is left of the welfare state? And wasn’t it the case that the welfare state entailed the promise that we would care for the truly needy? Well, this government’s standards of care are not my standards of care. I am appalled that it has gotten so far. And I am also still angry at the labour party – the party for the workers, for Goodness sake! – who was partly the architect of this plan, and has been a very willing contributor to the earlier fases of the dismantling of the welfare state.

The Camera Grip

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/05/2018 - 6:53am in



How can we motivate people? We can provide incentives, or dangle a promotion, or threaten to fire them...but there's an easy, inexpensive, and effective approach.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/04/2018 - 1:18am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

April 26, 2018 Corey Pein, author of Live Work Work Work Die, on the dark side of the Silicon Valley • an anonymous sex worker on the legal dangers of SESTA/FOSTA

Interview: UBI and ‘Job Culture’ (Part One)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/04/2018 - 3:15pm in

Kate McFarland interviews D. JoAnne Swanson of The Anticareerist, discussing how Universal Basic Income may help address compulsory wage labor.

The post Interview: UBI and ‘Job Culture’ (Part One) appeared first on BIEN.

Weather Forecasting in a Troubled Climate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/04/2018 - 2:11am in


intelligence, work

When we think of areas of expertise, weather forecasting comes out high on the list. Forecasters get rapid and accurate feedback, and they have become masters at using AI tools.

Leonora Barry: a pioneer statistician of women’s labour

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/03/2018 - 3:44am in

by Eli Cook* Unfortunately yet unsurprisingly, the world of economic quantification was dominated by men in the nineteenth century. In honor of International Women’s Day, here is a story, excerpted from my book The Pricing of Progress, on Leonora Barry, one of … Continue reading →

Impostor Syndrome: “a problem I don’t especially wish to solve”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/03/2018 - 2:52am in

‘Impostor syndrome’ describes a problem I don’t especially wish to solve. Its remedy is to recognise that one does in fact belong. Yet I can’t convince myself I want to fully belong—indeed, I would experience belonging as a loss. The reasons for this are several, though all converge on a conviction that being ill-adapted has a value I would not forfeit.

Those are the words of Amy Olberding (University of Oklahoma), in a beautiful essay, “The Outsider,” at Aeon on life, work, class, family, academia, farming, and philosophy.

Here’s another excerpt:

When I took over the farm following my grandfather’s death, I initially despaired at all the loose bits and pieces that littered the place. Wire was my special enemy, for the barns were everywhere cluttered with it – wire salvaged from telephones, from appliances, from who-could-tell-where. I accumulated buckets of wire with a plan to dispose of them. Mercifully, I never got round to it, for I quickly learned the uncommon worth of wire. For example, it presently holds the muffler to my truck, secures the busted PTO cover on my bushhog, and seams caging around fruit-tree saplings, the better to protect them from the depredations of deer. My only concern about wire now is that I might need more.

The stock images sometimes used to depict the pitiable conditions or pathologies of the rural poor—images of homeplaces surrounded by wreckage and ‘trash’—tell a bigger story if you know how to read them. The broken-down car in the yard contains parts that still have use in them if need arises. That rusty freezer on the porch probably contains the dog’s food, since nothing beats an old freezer for storing feed where unsanctioned animals can’t get at it. Put plainly, if there is wire everywhere, there’s probably a reason. And if you can’t see the reason, there’s probably a reason for that too.

Farming’s field expediency has encouraged in me vitalising mental habits that are at odds with the orderly practices of academe. In life, it is a general good to see the strange, non-standard potentials in things, to use something built for one purpose for an entirely different purpose. So, too, it’s a plain good to fix what’s broke, whether mechanical or intellectual. And it’s good to become accustomed to a world that won’t always yield, to the recalcitrant material stuff that cares not for our larger, or even smaller, purposes—wire can’t, after all, do everything, no matter how much of it you have.

Read the whole thing, and savor the well-crafted and thoughtful writing of one of today’s wisest philosophers.

Emery Blagdon, Untitled (Individual element from The Healing Machine)

The post Impostor Syndrome: “a problem I don’t especially wish to solve” appeared first on Daily Nous.