Service labor and symbolic power: On putting Bourdieu to work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The subfield that is the sociology of service labor continues to generate vibrant internal dialogue. It was the author's original intent to push forward the frontier of theory within this field, by performing an ethnography of service work in a non-American context (that of post-apartheid South Africa). Once in the field, however, he found himself moving backward as he was forced to problematize basic assumptions concerning the very category of service. In brief, the author discovered that managers in a competitive tourism industry refused to label their employees' interactive labor as "service," whereas workers themselves actively advocated for such a designation. To document the interplay between material and symbolic politics of production, the author turned to the work of Pierre Bourdieu-especially his theory of political representation and the accompanying concept of nomination struggles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-319
Number of pages25
JournalWork and Occupations
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Bourdieu
  • Labor
  • Service work
  • South Africa

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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