Cultures of service

Authored by: Eileen M. Otis

Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  July  2010
Online publication date:  September  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415474450
eBook ISBN: 9780203891377
Adobe ISBN: 9781134026159


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In 2007 the service sector became the largest employer worldwide (International Labour Organization 2007). Services are now an employment mainstay not only in advanced economies but also in many developing countries around the globe. Despite the regional and international proliferation of services, cultural diversity has thus far largely been neglected in the analysis of interactive service labor. The expansion of services across regions and cultural domains, as well as the export of services from Western nations, reveals a seemingly obvious yet frequently overlooked fact: service labor requires workers to be culturally competent. A central component of most service labor is interaction between a worker and a client or customer. This interaction requires that workers recognize and manipulate culturally dominant forms of civility and etiquette. In common parlance, we often restrict our use of “culture workers” to the cultural elite—artists, musicians, actors, and writers. Yet service workers are also culture workers.

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