Purser Wins Award for New Book about On-Demand Labor
Gretchen Purser, assistant professor of sociology in the Maxwell School, has won the 2014 International Book Award from the California Series in Public Anthropology (University of California Press) for her manuscript “Labor On Demand: Dispatching the Urban Poor.”
Each year the series highlights a particular problem in its competitive call for manuscripts; this year’s focus was inequality in America. As winner of the award, she will not only have her book published by the University of California Press, but the press will also ensure that it is well publicized and recognized both within and beyond the academy.
Purser’s book is situated at the juncture of the longstanding traditions of workplace and urban ethnography. It is based on Purser’s real-life experience working as a day laborer for three years out of the Oakland and Baltimore branch offices of a leading on-demand staffing company that she calls “InstaLabor.” She brings readers into the day labor halls of “InstaLabor” and introduces readers to the cast of characters who make up this disposable workforce, bringing to light the reality of day laborers who work to maintain dignity in the face of degrading working conditions. With precariousness widely regarded as the defining characteristic and rallying cry of the day, this is a timely book that makes a significant contribution to understanding the degradation of work, the transformation of labor markets, and the reproduction of urban poverty and inequality in the U.S.