For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Reflections on a 30-Year Career of Research on Work and Personality by Melvin Kohn and Colleagues"

by Spenner, Kenneth I (1998)


When Class and Conformity (Kohn, 1969) appeared in my life it was in my second undergraduate sociology course, Soc. 123, Social Stratifica- tion. It was a red and white paperback with little pseudo-people hierarchi- cally arranged on the cover. The Cold War and the Vietnam War were in full swing. What was happening in the streets pushed me into sociology classes; the little red and white book helped keep me there. The thesis could be remembered for the final exam (memorable came later), never mind that canonical correlation had to wait several years for statistics classes to be grasped fully. How and why did parents' social class matter in the lives of sons and daughters? Why did middle class parents value self-direction for their children while working class parents valued obedience, cleanliness, and neatness. It was because these class-related pat- terns were linked to the conditions of people's work lives-levels of routi- nization, closeness of supervision, and substantive complexity of their work. Two phenomena that one always sensed were linked in everyday life, social class and values, had a deeper causal explanation in work conditions. Ear- lier research had established clearly the empirical correlation between so- cial class and values, but a puzzle remained as to the underlying mechanisms. The puzzle was solved when Kohn and colleagues dug deeper into the structured conditions of everyday life than the abstract labels of middle and working class that had dominated previous studies. I passed the exam.


Sociology, Kohn, Personality, Personality Development, Stratification, Social Class, Social Psychology


Psychological Centrality of Work

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