Gretchen Wren Purser

Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Summer Scholar


Labor on Demand: Dispatching the Urban Poor

Gretchen Wren PurserGretchen Wren PurserPhotograph by Jason S. Ordaz Gretchen Wren PurserPhotograph by Jason S. Ordaz 

Labor On Demand: Dispatching the Urban Poor is an ethnography of the burgeoning day labor, or “on demand staffing,” industry. It draws upon in-depth interviews and nearly three years of participant observation working alongside predominantly African-American, formerly incarcerated men within the Baltimore, Maryland and Oakland, California offices of a company that Dr. Purser calls “InstaLabor.” Far from a marginal operation, InstaLabor is one of the nation’s largest private employers, supplying “just-in-time” manual laborers to the country’s leading corporations. Shifting the focus of workplace ethnography from the labor process to the processing of labor, this study traces the recruitment, deployment, management and lived experience of the day labor workforce, elaborating the workings of what Pierre Bourdieu has referred to as flexploitation. This study contributes to our understanding of the ongoing transformation of the U.S. labor market, the degradation of work, and the making and unmaking of the precariat.

Affiliation at time of award:
Department of Sociology, Maxwell School of Syracuse University

Sponsored by Ethel-Jane Westfeldt Bunting Foundation

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