The Dignity of Working Men: morality and the boundaries of race, class, and immigration

Front Cover
Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - Social Science - 408 pages
Michele Lamont takes us into the world inhabited by working-class men--the world as they understand it. Interviewing black and white working-class men who, because they are not college graduates, have limited access to high-paying jobs and other social benefits, she constructs a revealing portrait of how they see themselves and the rest of society.

Morality is at the center of these workers' worlds. They find their identity and self-worth in their ability to discipline themselves and conduct responsible but caring lives. These moral standards function as an alternative to economic definitions of success, offering them a way to maintain dignity in an out-of-reach American dreamland. But these standards also enable them to draw class boundaries toward the poor and, to a lesser extent, the upper half. Workers also draw rigid racial boundaries, with white workers placing emphasis on the "disciplined self" and blacks on the "caring self." Whites thereby often construe blacks as morally inferior because they are lazy, while blacks depict whites as domineering, uncaring, and overly disciplined.

This book also opens up a wider perspective by examining American workers in comparison with French workers, who take the poor as "part of us" and are far less critical of blacks than they are of upper-middle-class people and immigrants. By singling out different "moral offenders" in the two societies, workers reveal contrasting definitions of "cultural membership" that help us understand and challenge the forms of inequality found in both societies.


What people are saying - Write a review

The dignity of working men: morality and the boundaries of race, class, and immigration

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Lamont (sociology, Princeton) provides a fascinating look at the way working-class American and French men make sense of their world. Interviews with white and black American workingmen highlight ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - binh-jules - LibraryThing

Great book describing the ways we justify how we feel about others-- couching our objections in terms of morality. Read full review


Making Sense of Their Worlds
Part I American Workers
Part II The United States Compared
Toward a New Agenda
Methods and Analysis
The Context of the Interview Economic Insecurity Globalization and Places

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Bibliographic information