The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration (Russell Sage Foundation Books)

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9780674003064: The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration (Russell Sage Foundation Books)

Michèle Lamont takes us into the world inhabited by working-class men--the world as they understand it. Interviewing black and white working-class men who, because they are not college graduates, have limited access to high-paying jobs and other social benefits, she constructs a revealing portrait of how they see themselves and the rest of society.

Morality is at the center of these workers' worlds. They find their identity and self-worth in their ability to discipline themselves and conduct responsible but caring lives. These moral standards function as an alternative to economic definitions of success, offering them a way to maintain dignity in an out-of-reach American dreamland. But these standards also enable them to draw class boundaries toward the poor and, to a lesser extent, the upper half. Workers also draw rigid racial boundaries, with white workers placing emphasis on the "disciplined self" and blacks on the "caring self." Whites thereby often construe blacks as morally inferior because they are lazy, while blacks depict whites as domineering, uncaring, and overly disciplined.

This book also opens up a wider perspective by examining American workers in comparison with French workers, who take the poor as "part of us" and are far less critical of blacks than they are of upper-middle-class people and immigrants. By singling out different "moral offenders" in the two societies, workers reveal contrasting definitions of "cultural membership" that help us understand and challenge the forms of inequality found in both societies.

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About the Author:

Michèle Lamont is Professor of Sociology at Harvard University.

Review:

Many interpreters of current society have posited that class is no longer a useful concept as a basis for identity. This book, based on hundreds of interviews with American and French workers, rejects that analysis...It is fascinating reading, an important contribution to a reexamination of class.
--J. Wishnia (Choice 2001-04-01)

Was there actually a set of values that could be considered distinctly "working class" in character, that represented a distinctly working-class worldview? One of the most sophisticated recent attempts to answer this question appeared in the recent study The Dignity of Working Men...[Lamont] recognized that asking workers to choose their most important values from a prepared list would essentially force their replies into a predetermined mold that had little to do with their real-world thoughts and feelings. Lamont used instead open-ended and non-directive questions. She interviewed 150 blue-collar workers, black and white, in the United States and in France, and compared them with middle-class people in both countries. Her questions asked workers to describe people who were similar to them and people who were different, people they liked and disliked, and those to whom they felt superior or inferior. Follow-up questions probed why they felt as they did, spontaneously eliciting a complex pattern of moral judgements and values. Both work and family did indeed emerge among the blue-collar workers' core values. But the real significance lay in how those were perceived.
--Andrew Levinson (The Nation)

Michele Lamont's study of working-class men in the USA and France is...the most interesting contribution to this field for quite some time, and should serve as a benchmark for future scholarly debate...This is a really innovative and challenging book and it needs to be read as widely as possible...The Dignity of Working Men has all the potential to become a classic.
--John Solomos (Ethnic and Racial Studies 2002-09-01)

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Lamont, Prof. Michèle
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