For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The Deficient Worker: Skills, Identity, and Inequality in Service Employment"

by Otis, Eileen; Wu, Tongyu (2018)


Skill is central to inequality in the workplace, as a basis of material reward and status recognition. While much research treats skill as a set of abilities possessed?or not?by a worker, scholars have yet to grasp the organizational processes whereby jobs come to be taken as rudimentary and the worker performing them unskilled and therefore deficient. To illuminate these processes, we travel to Beijing, China, where workers are loquacious about inequalities confronted in relatively new forms of labor. By juxtaposing two service workplaces where similar sets of work tasks carry contradictory value, we discover the social relations that demote workers and their jobs based on identities, femininity in one workplace, rurality in another. We argue that formulating job tasks as skilled or unskilled is itself a kind of organizational work, which recruits the efforts of managers, colleagues, and customers. Unskilled workers do not appear in the workplace already deficient, but become so through organizational processes.


Skills, Inequality, Identify, Feininity


Employment, Platforms, Automation

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