Friday, July 25, 2014

Kenneth Kolb's "Moral Wages"

Kenneth H. Kolb is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Furman University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim Advocacy and Counseling, and reported the following:
Tammy was trouble—and this caused real problems for the people trying to help her.

They found Tammy a scholarship at the local community college, but she dropped out. They found Tammy a new apartment, but she complained that she didn’t like it and left. They gave Tammy rent money for her new place, but she used it to buy drugs. Had Tammy sought services almost anywhere else, she would be shown the door without regret. However, the people trying to help Tammy were not just any service providers; they were victim advocates and counselors at an agency that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. In short, Tammy had come to the one place that offered to believe and help her no matter what. Yet, when her behavior exhausted the staff’s patience, it created a ripple of doubt that touched everyone inside the agency. What happens when the sympathizers of last resort get angry at the people seeking their help?

Page 99 of Moral Wages describes the lengths to which they tried to help Tammy.
Tammy found a new place to live, but did so by moving in with a man who also had a record of violence against women. Working within the confines of their empowerment philosophy, the advocates did not tell Tammy in clear terms that she should leave him—issuing orders like that was seen as too directive at [the agency]. Instead, they spelled out all the possible ways that this arrangement could have a bad ending. Yet, despite their steering, these appeals had no effect. She was insistent on moving in with this new man.
Victim advocates and counselors are different, and after a year of ethnographic fieldwork I came to see clearly what makes them so. Forging emotional connections with victims is what makes the low pay, long hours, and high stress of their jobs worth it. Forgiving clients is the surest way to show that they are caring and competent service providers. Yet, some of their clients’ behavior made this almost impossible. Ultimately, the frustration that arose from these cases caused them to question their abilities and purpose—just one of the dilemmas I discuss throughout the book.
Learn more about Moral Wages at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue