ALLISON PUGH. Using Culture to Manage Insecurity: The Tumbleweed Society at Home

Monday, March 18, 2013 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

Do the cultural practices and meanings in one powerful institution shape them in another, and if so how?  I examined this question by looking at the case of how job insecurity affects the way people talk about commitment at work and at home.  Based on in-depth interviews with 80 people, mostly women, who varied in their experience of job insecurity and their relative advantage, I argue that most insecure workers share a sense of precarity as inevitable, and construct a ‘moral wall’ to fend it off from the home.  Respondents were governed by four ‘guiding principles of attachment,’ cultural worldviews that framed the stakes at hand and the emotions they allowed themselves to feel at work and at home.   I found that, absent state support,  job insecurity filters through gender and class inequality to affect the meanings and practices of commitment at home, via such guiding principles as duty, independence and pragmatism. This research demonstrates how cultural action in one setting heightens the salience of particular dilemmas in another; it also contributes to the sociology of work, in documenting some of the broader impacts of job insecurity; and the sociology of family, suggesting scholars would do well to look beyond class inequality to job insecurity as another factor in relationship stability.

Allison Pughis Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia, joining that department in 2007 after earning her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley.   She is the author of Longing and Belonging:  Parents, Children, and Consumer Culture (University of California Press, 2009), which relied on three years of comparative ethnographic research in schools to explain the commercialization of childhood in different contexts of social inequality.  Longing and Belonging won three awards from the American Sociological Association, including the 2010 William J. Goode award for the best book in family sociology.   Her new book, The Tumbleweed Society:  Working and Caring in an Age of Insecurity (Oxford University Press, 2013), is an analysis of “insecurity culture,” specifically how job insecurity and inequality intersect to shape the way working parents respond to the ‘common sense’ that obligations and relationships are fleeting at work and at home.   She is an honorary research fellow at the United States Study Centre at the University of Sydney, Australia, and her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Bankard Fund for Political Economy.