The Social Life of Employment Contracts
Employment contracts shape our work lives, often far beyond the narrow parameters of what is legally enforceable. Like other legal contracts in the United States, they are entered into freely by both the worker and employer. Unlike other legal contracts, however, they entitle the employer to direct, monitor, and discipline the worker. The Social Life of Employment Contracts explores how workers’ experiences with employment contracts form a productive ethnographic site for analyzing the links between Americans’ views of democracy and control by asking, for example, how Uber drivers experience work when they sign a Terms and Conditions Agreement instead of an employment contract, or how yoga instructors and haircutters fashion careers when they must accept non-compete clauses in order to work at a particular studio. Gershon’s project examines the social consequences of having an employment contract function as the closest thing to a social contract that Americans will ever sign.
Ilana Gershon is the Ruth N. Halls Professor of Anthropology at IU
Bloomington. She has a wide-ranging set of interests, from Samoan
migrants in New Zealand and the United States to how mathematicians co-author. She has published The Breakup 2.0 (Cornell University
Press, 2010), a book on how Americans use new media to break up
with each other. Most recently, she has written Down and Out in the
New Economy (University of Chicago Press, 2017), about how neoliberalism has transformed the hiring ritual in corporate America.