Sunday, March 22, 2020

Erin Hatton's "Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment"

Erin Hatton is an associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Her research is centered in the sociology of work, while also extending into the fields of race and gender, social inequality, culture, labor, law, and social policy. Her first book, The Temp Economy: From Kelly Girls to Permatemps in Postwar America (2011), weaves together gender, race, class, and work in a cultural analysis of the temporary help industry and the rise of the new economy.

Hatton applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Coerced: Work Under Threat of Punishment is the last page of the central substantive chapter of this book, which examines coercion, compliance, and resistance across four very different groups of workers: prisoners working behind bars, welfare recipients required to work for public assistance, Division I football and basketball players, and graduate students in the sciences. This page (along with the previous page) does a pretty good job of summarizing the book’s main argument: that the supervisors in these labor relations wield expansive punitive power over these workers, and that this power is a previously unrecognized form of labor coercion that I call “status coercion.” Through such coercion, I argue, the supervisors in these labor relations have far-reaching power over these workers’ lives, families, and futures. As I write on page 99,
The coercion in these labor regimes has a far-reaching effect, producing compliant yet productive workers not only for the regimes themselves but also for the low-wage “precariat.” … For as we have seen, these labor regimes not only produce actions of compliance; they produce ideologies of compliance. Although these workers hold both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic ideologies of work, they generally accept, and often embrace, the importance of being coachable, teachable, and compliant: hardworking, unquestioning, and acquiescent. Perhaps this is not surprising given the severity of the consequences they face if they do otherwise.
(Though, later in the book, I also analyze the many ways in which these workers resist the coercion and subjugation that pervade their labor.)

In short, the ”Page 99 Test” works! This page gives the reader a great synopsis of the book’s main argument, as well as a strong sense of the book’s tenor.

Of course, one has to read more than just page 99 to get a full understanding of the book, particularly if the reader needs to be convinced that it is even reasonable to compare such seemingly incomparable groups. (Spoiler alert: I do not argue that these groups are the same. Graduate students are not prisoners! But I do argue that they experience the same type of labor coercion, in kind but not degree, just as day laborers and managers both experience economic coercion to varying degrees.) Ultimately I argue such unusual comparisons can yield new and surprising insight into social dynamics.
Visit Erin Hatton's website.

--Marshal Zeringue