Enforcing the Work Ethic

Rhetoric and Everyday Life in a Work Incentive Program

By Gale Miller

Subjects: Sociology Of Work
Series: SUNY series in the Sociology of Work and Organizations
Paperback : 9780791404249, 252 pages, January 1991
Hardcover : 9780791404232, 252 pages, February 1991

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Table of contents


1: Human Service Work as Rhetoric

2: The Work Incentive Program

3: Social Relations in WIN as Potential Arguments

4: Defining and Justifying WIN

5: Defining Trouble in WIN

6: Justifying Solutions in WIN

7: Rhetoric, Argumentation, and Acquiescence in WIN





This analysis, based on a year's observation of social relations in a Work Incentive Program (WIC) office, explores the ways in which staff members organize their interactions with clients, coworkers, and supervisors. Miller focuses on rhetoric (persuasive discourse) as a central aspect of everyday work and as a means of analyzing activities and relationships. He shows, for example, how staff members, clients, and supervisors rhetorically define and justify organizational purposes, or typical and preferred organizational solutions to problems. The book offers an alternative image and orientation to low-level human service professionals and emphasizes how they actively participate in the creation and maintenance of troublesome work relationships.


"Rather than taking the idas of 'labor market,' 'job characteristics,' and 'skills' for granted and analyzing market conditions, Miller argues that these concepts are continually subject to definition by those concerned, and that their meanings are assigned under very practical circumstances.

"The complex practicalities we all face in life and work are not ignored in describing WIN, and therefore, show a recognition of real life circumstances, in particular the 'rhetoric' that endures in a street-level bureaucracy. This challenges major assumptions and presents a convincing case for an alternate point of view. " — Jaber F. Gubrium

"Few sociologists have the courage to examine the messy, ambiguous, complex world of social service provision. While this examination is not as neat and tidy as those seeking merely to apportion blame, it is truly a sociological analysis of interest to all people who strive to understand how the world actually works. In particular, Miller's perspective—new to sociology—has started to transform sociological studies of social problems and human services work. " — Donileen R. Loseke