Rachel Sherman is the Michael E. Gellert Professor and Chair of Sociology. She is broadly interested in how and why unequal social relations are reproduced, legitimated, and contested, and in how these processes are embedded in cultural vocabularies of identity, interaction, and moral worth. Empirically, she uses ethnography and in-depth interviewing to investigate service work, entitlement and lifestyle, and redistributive movements in the contemporary U.S. Her teaching includes courses on qualitative methods, class, work and labor, social movements, culture, and consumption.
Her first book, Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels (University of California Press, 2007), draws primarily on participant observation research to analyze how workers, guests, and managers in these hotels make sense of and negotiate the class inequalities that mark their relationships.
Her second book, Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence (Princeton University Press, 2017), uses in-depth interviews to explore the lived experience of privilege among wealthy and affluent New York parents. The book has been covered or reviewed by the New York Times, the New York Post, the Times of London, Vice, the Financial Times, Commentary, Nature Books in Brief, and the BBC World Service. An adapted excerpt appeared at The Guardian. Sherman's essay for the New York Times Sunday Review, published in conjunction with the book, is here.
As a 2018-2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow, she conducted research for her current book project, titled Class Traitors. Here she explores the world of wealthy progressives who are challenging the unequal social systems that have enabled their wealth--analogous to, and often overlapping with, white antiracists striving to dismantle systems of white supremacy. Class traitors work against accumulation and toward redistribution through social justice philanthropy and investing, partnering with grassroots social movements, and pushing policy alternatives such as higher taxes on the rich, as well as organizing other wealthy people. An early essay from that work is here.
She has also conducted research on the contemporary U.S. labor movement; on expert service work, especially the "lifestyle management" industry; the interactive artwork of Tino Sehgal; and food services in the airline industry.
AB 1991, Brown University
PhD 2003, University of California, Berkeley
2017 Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
2007 Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels. Berkeley: University of California Press.
2021 “Class Traitors: Wealthy Progressives Challenge Wealth and Worth.” Sociologica 15(2): 117-142.
2020 “Anxieties of Entitlement: Elite Common Sense about Merit and Moral Worth.” Recherches anthropologiques et sociologiques 1: 61-86.
2020 With Jussara Raxlen. “Labor, Lifestyle, and the ‘Ladies Who Lunch’: Work and Worth Among Elite Stay at Home Mothers.” Research in the Sociology of Work 34: 195-220.
2018 "'A Very Expensive Ordinary Life': Consumption, Symbolic Boundaries, and Moral Legitimacy among New York Elites." Socio-Economic Review 16(2): 411-433.
2017 “Conflicted Cultivation: Parenting, Privilege, and Moral Worth in Wealthy New York Families.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology 5(1-2): 1-33/
2015 “Caring or Catering? Emotions, Autonomy and Subordination in Lifestyle Work.” In Caring on the Clock: The Complexities and Contradictions of Paid Care Work, edited by Mignon Duffy, Amy Armenia, and Clare Stacey, Rutgers University Press.
2014 “The Art of Conversation: The Museum and the Public Sphere in Tino Sehgal’s This Progress.” Public Culture 26(3): 393-418.
2011 “The Production of Distinctions: Class, Gender and Taste Work in the Lifestyle Management Industry." Qualitative Sociology 34(1): 201-219.
2011 “Beyond Interaction: Customer Influence on Housekeeping and Room Service Work in Hotels.” Work, Employment and Society 25(1): 19-33.
2010 “‘Time is Our Commodity’: Gender and the Struggle for Occupational Legitimacy among Personal Concierges.” Work & Occupations 37(1): 81-114.
2005 “Producing the Superior Self: Strategic Comparison and Symbolic Boundaries among Luxury Hotel Workers.” Ethnography 6(2): 131-158.
2000 “Breaking the Iron Law of Oligarchy: Tactical Innovation and the Revitalization of the American Labor Movement,” with Kim Voss. American Journal of Sociology 106(2): 303-349, September/October. (Reprinted in Amy Wharton, ed., The Sociology of Organizations: An Anthology of Contemporary Theory and Research, Roxbury, 2007.)
- Winner of the Distinguished Article Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems, Labor Studies Division, 2001.
1999 “From State Introversion to State Extension in Mexico: Modes of Emigrant Incorporation, 1900-1997.” Theory and Society 28 (6): 835-878.
2017 "What it Means to be Entitled." Items: Insights from the Social Sciences (SSRC), April 17, 2017.
2020 Quoted in "The Whiners Who Earn $200,000 and Complain They’re Broke," The New Republic, July 20, 2020.
2020 Quoted in "Why So Many Americans Don’t Talk About Money," The Atlantic, March 2, 2020.
2019 "Rich Kid Revolutionaries," The New York Times, April 27, 2019.
2019 "Q&A: Sociologist Takes on Myths about Wealth and Morality," Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 2019.
2017 "What the Rich Won't Tell You," The New York Times, September 8, 2017.
Social class, culture, service work, social movements, qualitative methods
Awards And Honors
Carnegie Fellowship, 2018-2020