Friday, March 4, 2022

Joya Misra and Kyla Walters's "Walking Mannequins"

Joya Misra is Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She studies inequality from an intersectional perspective, including within workplace organizations. Kyla Walters is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University. She studies race, gender, labor, and education politics using qualitative methods.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Walking Mannequins: How Race and Gender Inequalities Shape Retail Clothing Work, and reported the following:
Our 99th page appears in the second part of the book, which explores relationships between managers, coworkers, and customers. Page 99 examines challenges among coworkers stemming from age. Although age differences may seem slight (3-5 years), this margin is meaningful to college-student workers who struggle to connect with their 17-year-old counterparts. We argue that age-based differences between coworkers can become more pronounced due to retailers’ labor practices, “This is essentially a turnover problem: when stores constantly hire new teenage workers who embody the store brand, longer-term employees lose their ‘cohorts’ and begin feeling alienated.”

Several interview quotes from two participants appear on page 99. They discuss working at Hollister (a beachy, California-themed apparel store owned by Abercrombie & Fitch). We analyze their insights, highlighting connections between selecting workers who reflect the store brand and “the tenuous nature of alliances” within service work.

Thumbing straight to page 99 provides readers with a useful yet impartial grasp of the book.

The Page 99 Test successfully imparts two key concerns of the text. First, workers’ social positions, such as age, prove crucial in the clothing retail industry. However, this test fails to capture the book’s attention to racial and gender dynamics. If someone only reads our 99th page, they would inaccurately think Walking Mannequins treats age as the most important dimension of social difference shaping workers’ experiences in this industry.

Second, workers’ experiences of retail clothing are situated within patterned dynamics between groups in the workplace. Yet, page 99 does not identify the key groups that we theorize in what we call the “service quadrangle”: store managers, corporate managers, coworkers, and customers). Only reading page 99 would mean missing out on Walking Mannequins’ key conceptual contributions integrating labor process theory of service work with both the cutting-edge surveillance practices widely used in retail and the emphasis on workers’ aesthetics and embodiment of the brand.

As sociologists of race, gender, and class, our central analytic concern is understanding how social processes create, maintain, and/or shift inequalities. Page 99 hints at this concern. It offers readers a chance to examine age dynamics in the fast-fashion retail workplace. Readers may appreciate this page’s emphasis on age as a salient dimension of social life, but we suspect they would find the book’s more general analysis of race and gender to be far more compelling.
Follow Joya Misra on Twitter and Kyla Walters on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue