When Classes Collide: Workers and Guests at High End Hotels

Rachel Sherman's new book,observes that workers and guests often minimize class differences between them, even by enacting relationships strongly structured by their relative privilege.
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breaks my heart:

Most hospitality workers -- especially those at high end hotels -- routinely interact with people with significantly more economic resources than they. This is an interesting point of contact analyzed exquisitely by Rachel Sherman in her book, Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels (review here). Sherman observes that workers and guests often minimized the class differences between them, even as enacting relationships strongly structured by their relative privilege. Instead of obsessing about the wealth and privilege of the guests or ranting about the injustice of class inequality, they "normalized" it:

Unequal entitlements and responsibilities were not obscured, because they were perfectly obvious and well-known to interactive workers. Nor were they explicitly legitimated, since workers rarely talked about them as such. Rather, they simply became a feature of the everyday landscape of the hotel. Conflicts over unequal entitlement were couched in individual rather than collective terms and in the language of complaint rather than critique (p. 17).

Interestingly, this confession bucks the trend, which makes me wonder: if normalizing becomes habitual, what upsets it? What knocks class consciousness back into full view? In this case, it might have been the personal nature of the question. When the guest expresses worry about the safety of the worker's own neighborhood, questioning whether "someone like her" should go "somewhere like that," perhaps it is too direct of a contrast to ignore.

Also inspired by Class Acts, see Employee "Empowerment" and Corporate Culture.

Originally posted at Sociological Images.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the principle writer for Sociological Images. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

For more by Lisa Wade, click here.

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