Class, Gender and Ethnicity in the Construction Industry
By Darren Thiel
Routledge – 2012 – 196 pages
Building workers constitute between five and ten per cent of the total labour market in almost every country of the world. They construct, repair and maintain the vital physical infrastructure of our societies, and we rely upon and trust their achievements every day. Yet we know surprisingly little about builders, their cultures, the organization of their work or the business relations that constitute their industry. This book, based on one-year’s participant observation on a London construction site, redresses this gap in our knowledge by taking a close-up look at a section of building workers and businessmen.
By examining the organizational features of the building project and describing the skill, sweat, malingering, humour and humanity of the building workers, Thiel illustrates how the builders were mostly autonomous from formal managerial control, regulating their own outputs and labour markets. This meant that the men’s ethnic, class and gender-bound cultural activities fundamentally underpinned the organization of their work and the broader construction economy, and thereby highlights the continuing centrality of class-bound culture and social stratification in a post-industrial, late modern world. Thiel outlines the on-going connections and intersections between economy, state, class and culture, ultimately showing how these factors interrelated to produce the building industry, its builders, and its buildings.
Based predominately on cultural and economic sociology, this book will also be of interest to those working in the fields of gender and organizational studies; social class and inequality; migration and ethnicity; urban studies; and social identities.
'Thiel's study sheds new light on an area of labour that has been understudied, and under theorised by ethnographers. This is a sensitive analysis of working life in the British construction industry, which tackles the most fundamental debates in labour studies with ambition and care. Thiel's book is required reading for anyone seeking to understand more about one of the largest and most fascinating sectors of the global economy.'
-Dr. Andrew Sanchez, London School of Economics and Political Science
'…a welcome addition to the scarce resources which document working life in the construction industry.'
'The strength of the book lies in the words of the workers who describe their ethnic and social backgrounds, approaches to work, money, family life, aspirations and their opinions of the social hierarchy within the building site itself. Alongside this are extracts from Thiel's own ethnographic diary of his time on site, which provides very detailed observations of building site life and work.'
'…it makes compelling reading, is a very important addition to existing literature and is highly recommended to everyone engaged in research on, or with an interest in, today's construction industry.'
-Christine Wall, University of Westminster, London, in CLR News, no 3 2012
1: Contracting and subcontracting: the build, its builders and their ethnic communities, 2. Managing ‘in the office’, 3. Working ‘on the tools’, 4. Time, recreation and workplace culture, 5. Becoming a builder and being working class, 6. Building masculinity: bodies, law and violence, 7. Economy, informality and social stratification, 8. Conclusion: Cultures, capitalisms and class reproduction, Appendix A. Specifications and costs of the building project
Darren Thiel is a lecturer in sociology at the University of Essex. Before taking up this position, he worked in a number of different occupations including the agricultural, construction, service and military sectors. After completing his PhD in 2006 he also worked as a researcher at the Home Office and the Police Foundation, and taught sociology at the University of East Anglia, UK.