Two women, virtual strangers, sit hand-in-hand across a narrow table, both intent on the same thing-achieving the perfect manicure. Encounters like this occur thousands of times across the United States in nail salons increasingly owned and operated by Asian immigrants. This study looks closely for the first time at these intimate encounters, focusing on New York City, where such nail salons have become ubiquitous. Drawing from rich and compelling interviews, Miliann Kang takes us inside the nail industry, asking such questions as: Why have nail salons become so popular? Why do so many Asian women, and Korean women in particular, provide these services? Kang discovers multiple motivations for the manicure-from the pampering of white middle class women to the artistic self-expression of working class African American women to the mass consumption of body-related services. Contrary to notions of beauty service establishments as spaces for building community among women, The Managed Hand finds that while tentative and fragile solidarities can emerge across the manicure table, they generally give way to even more powerful divisions of race, class, and immigration.
Introduction: Manicuring Work
1. “There’s No Business Like the Nail Business”
2. “What Other Work Is There?”: Manicurists
3. Hooked on Nails: Customers
4. “I Just Put Koreans and Nails Together”: Nail Spas and the Model Minority
5. Black People “Have Not Been the Ones Who Get Pampered”: Nail Art Salons and Black-Korean Relations
6. “You Could Get a Fungus”: Asian Discount Nail Salons as the New Yellow Peril
Conclusion: What Is a Manicure Worth?
Miliann Kang is Assistant Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and affiliated faculty in Sociology and Asian/Asian American Studies.
“Overall Kang has written an exceptionally well-argued, insightful book.”—American Journal Of Sociology / AJS
“Rich and textured account.”—Women's Review Of Books
“A poignant account of the ways those seeking beauty services realize their own sense of self with the assistance of the low-wage immigrant women.”—Smitha Radhakrishnan Contexts
"A beautifully designed and brilliantly executed study. . . . Skillful analysis . . . An important contribution to the growing literature on 'mundane' beauty practices, as well as to scholarship dealing more generally with the 'body/work nexus.'"—Debra Gimlin Social Forces
"This book is a must read for women's studies and sociology classes on labor, migration and gender as it provides its readers a rich and theoretically engaging discussion on feminine culture, the intersections of race, class, gender and migrant women's labor."—Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Brown University
"In The Managed Hand
, Miliann Kang makes a significant contribution to the existing literature on Asian-American women, gender relations, service workers, beauty and the body. Based on fieldwork in nail salons, Kang reveals the social and emotional negotiations between and amongst women in that setting. We will never look at fingernails and what they tell us about ourselves in the same way again!"—Rebecca King-O'Riain, author of Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants
"I enjoyed reading Kang's work so much that I felt disappointed when I finished. The book is a wonderful example of what sociology does best—i.e., skillfully examining a relatively small site of interest, such that the analysis speaks not only to matters of individual experience and identity, but also to those of broader social and cultural processes and structures."—Debra L. Gimlin, author of Body Work: Beauty and Self-Image in American Culture
"How did manicured nails become such ubiquitous symbols of feminine status? In this innovative and compelling ethnography, Kang unravels the many social consequences of the polished nail, bringing together insights from care work, ethnic enclave entrepreneurship, and gender and migration scholarship to illuminate the growing sector of body labor. All those who would dismiss manicured nails as socially irrelevant should read this book!"—Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, author of Domestica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence
Asia and Asian American Section, American Sociological Association
Oliver Cromwell Cox Award, Racial and Ethnic Minorities Section of the American Sociological Association
Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award, American Sociological Association Race, Gender, and Class Section
Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association Section on Sex and Gender
Sara Whaley Book Prize, National Women’s Studies Association