Sumptuary labor: How liberal market economies regulate consumption

Jeffrey J. Sallaz, Chi Phoenix Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Liberal market states promote the responsible consumption of potentially dangerous commodities. But the work of enforcing sumptuary law is in fact delegated to service employees in the private sector. In this article such work is termed sumptuary labor. Although the ability of states to privatize sumptuary enforcement is a remarkable accomplishment, it is by no means a seamless one. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork among bartenders and casino dealers, the article elaborates patterned conflicts of interest that arise during the performance of sumptuary labor. Both firms and workers may fail to ensure eligibility for consumption, prevent overindulgence, or guarantee the purity of the problematic commodity. The article concludes by theorizing how liberal market states manage the potential decoupling of sumptuary policy and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-572
Number of pages22
JournalPolitics and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Consumption
  • Governance
  • Labor
  • Liberalism
  • Markets

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


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