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Class Acts

Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels

Rachel Sherman (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 373 pages
ISBN: 9780520247826
January 2007
$34.95, £24.95
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In this lively study, Rachel Sherman goes behind the scenes in two urban luxury hotels to give a nuanced picture of the workers who care for and cater to wealthy guests by providing seemingly unlimited personal attention. Drawing on in-depth interviews and extended ethnographic research in a range of hotel jobs, including concierge, bellperson, and housekeeper, Sherman gives an insightful analysis of what exactly luxury service consists of, how managers organize its production, and how workers and guests negotiate the inequality between them. She finds that workers employ a variety of practices to assert a powerful sense of self, including playing games, comparing themselves to other workers and guests, and forming meaningful and reciprocal relations with guests. Through their contact with hotel staff, guests learn how to behave in the luxury environment and come to see themselves as deserving of luxury consumption. These practices, Sherman argues, help make class inequality seem normal, something to be taken for granted. Throughout, Class Acts sheds new light on the complex relationship between class and service work, an increasingly relevant topic in light of the growing economic inequality in the United States that underlies luxury consumption.
Introduction: Luxury Service and the New Economy

1. “Better Than Your Mother”: The Luxury Product
2. Managing Autonomy
3. Games, Control, and Skill
4. Recasting Hierarchy
5. Reciprocity, Relationship, and Revenge
6. Producing Entitlement
Conclusion: Class, Culture, and the Service Theater

Appendix A: Methods
Appendix B: Hotel Organization
Appendix C: Jobs, Wages, and Nonmanagerial Workers in Each Hotel: 2000–2001
Rachel Sherman is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Yale University.
“Excellent ethnographic account.”—British Journal Of Industrial Relations
“Consistently interesting . . . offers an often entertaining look inside a well-oiled service machine . . . while raising necessary questions.”—The Atlantic Monthly
“An intriguing study of a world that the average American never sees.”—Virginia Qtly Review
"Sherman's insightful ethnography sheds light on the interactional dimension of symbolic boundaries and class relations as they are lived by luxury hotel clients and the workers who serve them. We learn how both groups perform class through emotion work and deepen our understanding of the role played by "niceness" in constituting equality and reversing hierarchies. As such, Class Acts is a signal contribution to a growing literature on the place of the self concept in class boundaries. It will gain a significant place in a body of work that broadens our understanding of class by moving beyond structural determinants and taking into consideration the performative, emotional, cognitive, and expressive dimensions of inequality."—Michele Lamont, author of The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration

"Eye-opening, amusing, and appalling, Rachel Sherman's Class Acts explains how class inequality is normalized in the refined atmosphere of luxury hotels. This beautifully observed and engagingly written ethnography describes what kinds of deference and personal recognition money can buy. Moreover, it shows how workers who provide luxury service avoid seeing themselves as subordinate and how those whose whims are catered to are made comfortable with their privilege. Class Acts is a sobering and timely account of the legitimation of extreme inequality in a culture that prizes egalitarianism."—Robin Leidner, University of Pennsylvania

"Rachel Sherman provides a penetrating and engrossing study of workers and guests in luxury hotels. Do workers resent the guests? Do guests disdain the workers? Sherman argues neither is true-and explains why."—Julia Wrigley, author of Other People's Children

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