Assignment : Class Act, By Rachel Sherman Essay examples

Assignment : Class Act, By Rachel Sherman Essay examples

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How are luxury hotels, where guests with great wealth encounter staffs of service workers, sites for maintaining class differences? How do hotel workers and their customers understand class distinctions? For her book Class Acts, Rachel Sherman investigated two luxury hotels, both settings in which service employment means anticipating and responding to the demands of a clientele accustomed to personal attention. The disparities between these hotel guests and the workers who serve them make luxury hotels ideal sites for examining work relations along the socioeconomic fault lines of the service economy. Despite the potential for class antagonism, however, Sherman finds guests and workers employing elaborate strategies to normalize relations and rationalize guests’ entitlement to the attention they receive. Interactional processes, she explains, legitimate inequality by individualizing class differences between producers and consumers of luxury service.

Legitimating entitlement begins with the hotels themselves. Lavish, upscale destinations for travelers, many of whom become frequent guests, both hotels in which Sherman conducted her research had developed infrastructures to support workers’ efforts and generate guests’ loyalty. Backed by databases of information, workers learned the names and preferences of those they served, and they provided displays of labor that guests interpreted as care. Interactive workers performed service, and indeed, Sherman conceptualizes hotels as service theatres, where workers enact labor to appear sincerely concerned about guests’ well‐being. By abandoning the metaphor of the shop floor, she argues, analyses of service work might better identify elements of performance that comprise interactive labo...


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...only passing references to “back‐of‐the‐house” workers, those whose labor is more often invisible and whose social location is subordinate to other staff. Her project, therefore, is less an organizational ethnography than a study of class encounter, codified in organizational settings. Students of class inequality as well as work and organizations will therefore find this book useful. So might those concerned with labor relations in a service economy that has mostly resisted union organization. How, for example, might challenges to the relationship between workers and guests provide a critique of class‐based subordination? How might such a challenge inform broader political processes? Sherman can only speculate about the implications of her findings. Her microlevel focus, however, suggests some directions for analyses of class‐based entitlement in the service economy.

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