The servant class city: urban revitalization versus the working poor in San Diego

Karjanen, David J. The servant class city: urban revitalization versus the working poor in San Diego. Minnesota, 2016. 292p ISBN 9780816694624, $98.00; ISBN 9780816697489 pbk, $28.00; ISBN 9781452953366 ebook.

Karjanen (American studies, Minnesota) examines the servant class (hospitality industry, retail, informal work). Good jobs (regular and sufficient hours with benefits and ladders for advancement) are very scarce. With a limited social safety net, people rely on “do-it-yourself” safety nets of family and friends. Asset poverty makes the risks associated with unexpected costs or expenditures on education and training too high for the reward. Karjanen argues that conventional policy prescriptions fail in the complex situations these workers face. Job quality is more important than the number of jobs. The working poor need financial institutions designed to help them build assets. Karjanen is skeptical that current policies work. Urban policy should be more like public health practice and preventive medicine. This valuable case study does an excellent job of demonstrating the complex reality the hardworking poor face in neoliberal capitalism. Largely a descriptive study, the book is slow reading except for the vignettes in later chapters and the author’s discussion of what is wrong with current policy. For collections in the sociology of work, urban studies, and inequality.
Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.

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Harlem supers: the social life of a community in transition

Williams, Terry. Harlem supers: the social life of a community in transition. Palgrave Macmillan, 2015 (c2016). 243p  ISBN 9781349562411 pbk, $34.99

Terry Williams, author of The Cocaine Kids, Crackhouse, and The Conmen, continues his work on urban life in this book on Harlem “supers”, (managers responsible for repair and maintenance in a residential building). The text is full of field notes from nine supers selected for different locations and personal characteristics. It is part memoir, Williams has been a super and an investor in buildings that employ supers. His story and the stories of the supers he interviews are intertwined. The book is very digressive and the narrative thread is easily lost. He asserts that supers are crucial actors in their communities, but he does not give the reader a clear idea about how this works. It compares to Doormen by Peter Bearman, but does not develop sociological theory as well. Williams mentions many sociological concepts, but does not adequately link these ideas to the supers. Advanced students can make the links, but younger students will not. There are few photos, no captions, and no map for reference to building and neighborhood locations. The book is suitable for advanced urban courses but not for work or occupations.
Readership Levels Upper-division Undergraduates, Graduate Students, Researchers/Faculty, Professionals/Practitioners

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“Invisible in Austin: life and labor in an American city”

Invisible in Austin: life and labor in an American city, ed. by Javier Auyero. Texas, 2015. 271p bibl afp ISBN 9781477303658 pbk, $24.95.

Six photos of people, houses, stores, offices, etc. Symbolizing the various occupations and activities related in book essays

Inspired by the work of Pierre Bourdieu, 12 students and a professor in a sociology graduate seminar produced this collection of life stories from what sociologist Loïc Wacquant called the “urban precariate.”  Each student met with a respondent in multiple conversations over several months.  The students “fashioned” stories from these conversations and through collective discussion in the seminar.  All respondents were shown drafts of the stories before publication.  Some stories contain mild caveats about the accuracy of the facts or opinions related.  One chapter outlines the historical context of Austin, Texas and the other 11 include a construction worker, a waitress, a sex worker, a copier repairman, a musician, a house cleaner, a taxi driver, and others.  The writing is clear and interesting, reminiscent of journalism and memoir.  Sociological concepts are introduced in each chapter without much elaboration.  The stories explore the tension between structural constraints (neoliberal Texas state policy, gentrification, segregation) and the individuals’ struggles to make meaning of their lives and their situations.  Wacquant’s Afterword provides a theoretical discussion and suggestions for further work.  For students in the social sciences, especially work, inequality, and urban policy.  SUMMING UP:  Highly recommended.  All levels/libraries.

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