Saturday, May 13, 2017

Richard E. Ocejo's "Masters of Craft"

Richard E. Ocejo is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY. He is the editor of Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork and author of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City.

Ocejo applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy, and reported the following:
My book is about traditionally low-status manual labor jobs that have been transformed into “cool” taste-making occupations that many young people want to do as careers. I studied cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole-animal butchers. I structured the book into two parts with four chapters each. Each chapter in Part I discusses a different job, workplace, and industry, while the chapters in Part II combine them under different themes. Page 99 is from Chapter 3, which is the chapter on barbers. This particular page is part of a longer episode at the barbershop, and it is certainly an important part of the chapter. And interestingly, the more I think about it, the more I can see how it is somewhat representative of a specific argument of the book.

Out of context, the action on page 99 is very simple: a barber greets his regular client, they start talking about food and restaurants, other barbers join in, and the conversation shifts to movies, while the barber regularly stops cutting hair to chat face-to-face with his client. It sounds like a typical scene in a barbershop, specifically one that serves as a social gathering place of some sort. African American and ethnic barbershops come to mind.

But what makes this episode interesting is how rare it is for the shops I studied. Upscale men’s barbershops have opened in hip, gentrifying neighborhoods for culturally savvy and professional men to achieve a cool style. They deliberately model themselves on traditional barbershops, like black barbershops, to be havens for men to be men. They want community and socializing, but they rarely get it. Most of the clients travel from outside the neighborhood and are in and out. The barbers, however, provide the social atmosphere: they regularly have loud group conversations with each other, which entertain clients, who do not participate. In this episode, the client happens to be African American, and, for whatever reason, whenever he comes in to get his hair cut, the shop becomes the communal place the owners originally intended it to be.

I think these shops are fascinating examples of how young, well-to-do urbanites consume examples of traditional working-class and “lowbrow” culture, which is an important theme in my book. This episode really shows it in action.
Learn more about Masters of Craft at the Princeton University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Upscaling Downtown.

My Book, The Movie: Masters of Craft.

--Marshal Zeringue