To many Americans, the term “domestic servant” conjures up images of other places and other times. Maybe it is Downton Abbey. Or maybe it is a Latin American country. Or if we do think about the United States, we think about a time long in the past.
But contrary to popular perceptions, domestic service is very much a part of the contemporary American landscape, and is in fact on the rise for the first time in over one hundred years.
What explains this twenty-first century resurgence of an occupation that sociologist Lewis Coser declared obsolete in 1973? The short answer: inequality.
Gentrification—the socioeconomic upgrading of previously low-income neighborhoods—has spread to more cities and more neighborhoods over the last two decades. It has increasingly ignited opposition around how it displaces poor residents out of their once-neglected neighborhoods.
But research has consistently found that this isn’t the case.
Nearly all studies, including our own, that track poor residents living in gentrifying neighborhoods find that they do not move out of their neighborhoods—in general or involuntarily—substantially more than those living in low-income neighborhoods that don’t gentrify. Instead, most of the demographic changes in the neighborhood are due to the changing demographics of who is moving into neighborhoods rather than who is moving out.
Research finds that public sector workers are more politically active and civically engaged than the broader public. Our work investigates the role of labor unions in amplifying and shaping this participation.
With one in three public sector workers unionized, unionization has widespread implications. Public workers make up nearly half of all union members in the United States, including large numbers of women and people of color. However, the political terrain of public unions is shifting with the passage of restrictive laws and increased political opposition, especially over the past decade. This opposition threatens to erode public union membership, potentially undermining political and civic participation.
Language is part and parcel of work. Sociological approaches to the study of language at work have tended to emphasize dramatic differences in language use at work, such as the discrimination that immigrants face when attempting to enter or navigate new workplaces where the language spoken is not their own. Yet language operates on a much more subtle level. Linguistic differences that are difficult to detect can effectively distinguish between people who are engaged in different kinds of work.
We address these subtleties in a recent study by drawing on precise socio-linguistic measurement techniques to examine how specific dialect features are associated with the development of linguistic employment niches. Our study examines how the expression of six Southern US vowel sounds maps onto the industrial workforce experiences of 190 native Raleigh, North Carolina speakers. We show that dialect features are not only tied to specific industries, but that the dynamic connection between dialect and industry helps to reveal fundamental transformations in a community’s socio-linguistic landscape.