Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996


Sociology of Work: Concepts and Cases

Carol Auster
Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press
ISBN 0 8039 9033 2
£29.99; US$35.95 (pb)
xxiv + 456 pp.

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Sociology's subfield of work and occupations covers a lot of ground. Work can be understood in multiple contexts: cultural, economic, organizational, and occupational. The immediate relevance of work to a student, however, is more personal: what will the world of work be like for me? Carol Auster's The Sociology of Work: Concepts and Cases addresses the student's pressing question; it is a textbook that is less about work as a social phenomenon and more about workers' experiences. As such, it is most accurately described as a textbook on the sociology of workers. And, with this more micro-level approach, it is markedly less structural in its emphasis than texts on the sociology of work authored by Hall (1994) and Hodson & Sullivan (1995).

Auster organizes the material in terms of how workers experience their jobs: what factors influence occupational choice, how workers are socialized to the norms of the workplace, how workers feel about their jobs, ways in which workers bend the rules on the job, how workers deal with the dual demands of work and family, and how technological changes in the workplace affect workers.

Each chapter concludes with multiple case studies that illustrate the concepts introduced in the text. The case studies are very engaging and range from the predictable pieces on doctors and lawyers to less conventional choices on such occupations as fences (that is, middlemen for stolen merchandise), basketball coaches, and garbage collectors. Auster's extensive use of case studies is valuable in that it makes the abstract material in the text more relevant to students and introduces them to kinds of work with which they are probably unfamiliar.

These case studies are the textbook's strength. Over the past three years, I have sought to design a sociology of work course that revolves around case studies, and I am delighted to see a text that takes this approach. The weakness of the textbook, however, is its neglect of the social organization of work. The sociology of work is not just about workers; it is about the structures (e.g. occupational, organizational) that comprise the world of work. The concepts of bureaucracy, informal organizational structure, and the system of professions are important not only because they influence workers' experiences but also because they are major forms of social structure in modern society. They are important enough to be understood in their own right, and not just in terms of how they affect workers.

The micro-level emphasis of the book discourages the reader from understanding important structural phenomenon. For example, the chapter on occupational choice emphasizes the personal process of choosing an occupation; in so doing, however, it de-emphasizes the importance of understanding society's occupational structure. Similarly, bureaucracy is discussed in terms of how it affects workers' feelings towards their job; such a focus, however, undermines an understanding of bureaucracy as a pervasive form of social control.

Instructors of courses in the sociology of work should consider using Auster's book. In particular, there is much potential in the well-chosen case studies. I would, however, supplement the book with an emphasis on structure in other elements of the course (e.g. lectures, supplemental readings). Although Auster's text is engaging to students because of its immediate relevance, it does not provide a broad enough introduction to the sociology of work to stand on its own.

Susanne C. Monahan
Montana State University


HALL, Richard (1994) Sociology of Work: Perspectives, Analyses, and Issues. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

HODSON, Randy & Sullivan, Teresa A. (1995) The Social Organization of Work, 2nd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996