Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Why People Work as Hard as They Do: The Role of Work Ethic as a Legitimizing Myth in the Work Lives of New York City's Fast Food Workers
by Speight, Michell, Ed.D., The George Washington University, 2018, 275; 10638062
Abstract (Summary)

Intimately interwoven in American culture is the unquestioned notion of paid labor as a personally gratifying moral and civic responsibility. Yet, of the 46 million Americans living in poverty in 2010, 23% held jobs (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012). The U.S. fast food industry employs 4 million workers (Statista, 2014) and “pays the minimum wage to a higher portion of its workers than any other American industry” (Schlosser, 2001).

The research methodology for this study was critical ethnography, which explores a cultural phenomenon and attempts to provoke social change by giving voice to marginalized communities (Thomas, 1993). A New York City–based nonprofit organization working to organize fast food workers was the field site for the study. The mining of empirical material involved multiple qualitative research methods, including observation, document and artifact analysis, and interviews with 25 fast food workers who participated at one or more strikes. This study addressed a single research question: What role does work ethic as a legitimizing myth play in the work lives of New York City fast food workers who live and work in New York City and who have participated in work actions or demonstrations? Sidanius (1999) defined legitimizing myths—an element of his social dominance theory—as “values, attitudes, beliefs, causal attributions, and ideologies providing moral and intellectual justifications for social practices that either increase, maintain, or decrease levels of social inequality among social groups” (p. 104).

The study found that the role of work ethic as a hierarchy-enhancing legitimizing myth appeared to depend upon what the individual was fighting to achieve when she or he joined the Fight for $15, i.e., emancipation, reciprocity, worker solidarity, or personal development. Stigma and stigmatization appeared to act as a mechanism to maintain group-based social hierarchy and thereby reinforce the legitimization of the work ethic myth. In addition, the research participants had low expectations of escaping poverty in the future and experienced anxiety about the temporal nature of a future positive financial situation, further legitimizing the work ethic narrative. Recommendations based on these findings are offered for theory and research, and policy and practice.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Scully-Russ, Ellen
Commitee: Ali, Arshad I., Marschall, Daniel
School: The George Washington University
Department: Human & Organizational Learning
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 79/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social research, Labor economics, Labor relations, Organization Theory
Keywords: Critical ethnography, Cultural hegemony, Fight for $15, Legitimizing myth, Low-wage work, Social dominance theory
Publication Number: 10638062
ISBN: 978-0-355-42057-9
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