How formerly low-status jobs have become cool, creative careers.
When conducting research for his previous book, Ocejo (Sociology/John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice; Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City, 2014, etc.) became a regular customer at several Manhattan cocktail bars. Bartending, he had assumed, was a menial, unstable job. However, the bartenders he met were “well-educated and culturally savvy” men, with other career opportunities, who saw in mixology an outlet for craftsmanship and creativity. The job, he was surprised to discover, had become hip and desirable. Curious about this redefinition of the meaning of work, the author expanded his view to include craft distilling, upscale men’s barbershops, and whole-animal butchers. After interning at a distillery and a butcher, conducting dozens of interviews, and spending countless hours observing, Ocejo concludes that “the upscale, new elite versions” of some ordinary occupations “have become cultural tastemakers, specifically producers of omnivorous tastes, in the gentrifying city.” He argues, furthermore, that those who take these jobs “enact a set of ‘cultural repertoires’ ” that reflect and communicate specialized cultural knowledge. Ocejo was 26 when he began his research and 32 when he completed it, roughly the age of the men he focused on; he is “straight, middle-class, and well-educated,” like many of the workers and customers he observed; and he admits that an older or ethnically diverse or female investigator might offer a different perspective. Still, even within the young, white, male limitations of his ethnography, Ocejo successfully supports, and too often repeats, his argument that “for young urbanites with hip tastes, these workplaces exude cool.” Cocktail bars and upscale barbershops “represent fun, cool, and urbane alternatives” to sports bars and quick haircut mills. The author engagingly portrays several workers, tracing their motivations for choosing a job, their satisfactions and challenges, and plans for their futures.
A close-up and often entertaining look at new service jobs in an urban economy.