Cover of Service Encounters by Amy Hanser
Service Encounters
Class, Gender, and the Market for Social Distinction in Urban China
Amy Hanser

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2008
256 pages.
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Cloth ISBN: 9780804758369
Paper ISBN: 9780804758376

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This lively study explores how social and economic changes to Chinese society create new cultural values and forms of inequality. Amy Hanser examines changes to a particular set of jobs—service work, in this case salesclerk work—and the nature of the social interactions involved. It argues that a new "structure of entitlement," which makes elite groups feel more entitled to public forms of respect and social esteem, is constructed in settings like new, luxury department stores. The book not only shows how this change involves increasingly unequal relations between clerks and customers, but also demonstrates how marketplaces have become sites where social differences—and inequalities—are recognized and justified. The study's importance lies in its attention to ethnographic detail, its application of cultural theories of inequality to China, and its contribution to our understanding of contemporary China. Unlike other studies of inequality in urban China, this book takes a unique setting—the marketplace and the interactions between customers and salespeople—and a unique approach—the author herself worked as a salesclerk in three settings.

About the author

Amy Hanser is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

"Hanser presents a detailed, refreshing ethnographic account of three radically different retail settings and practices, skillfully tracing the shifting symbolic boundaries of class, gender, and service in urban China."

—Li Zhang, University of California, Davis

"A pure pleasure to read, Hanser's ethnography probes the little-known world of retail clerks in post-socialist China. An important, contemporary contribution to the eternal questions about inequality and stratification that remain at the core of sociological research, this book will be an ethnographic classic."

—Deborah Davis, Yale University

"Hanser provides a vivid account of the everyday implications of Post-Mao era economic reforms and how boundaries of class and gender are both articulated and made permeable. Her concise and careful use of social theory makes it a useful introduction to practices of class and gender distinction."

Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific