Inventing Equal Opportunity

Princeton University Press
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Equal opportunity in the workplace is thought to be the direct legacy of the civil rights and feminist movements and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. Yet, as Frank Dobbin demonstrates, corporate personnel experts--not Congress or the courts--were the ones who determined what equal opportunity meant in practice, designing changes in how employers hire, promote, and fire workers, and ultimately defining what discrimination is, and is not, in the American imagination.

Dobbin shows how Congress and the courts merely endorsed programs devised by corporate personnel. He traces how the first measures were adopted by military contractors worried that the Kennedy administration would cancel their contracts if they didn't take "affirmative action" to end discrimination. These measures built on existing personnel programs, many designed to prevent bias against unionists. Dobbin follows the changes in the law as personnel experts invented one wave after another of equal opportunity programs. He examines how corporate personnel formalized hiring and promotion practices in the 1970s to eradicate bias by managers; how in the 1980s they answered Ronald Reagan's threat to end affirmative action by recasting their efforts as diversity-management programs; and how the growing presence of women in the newly named human resources profession has contributed to a focus on sexual harassment and work/life issues.

Inventing Equal Opportunity reveals how the personnel profession devised--and ultimately transformed--our understanding of discrimination.

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About the author

Frank Dobbin is professor of sociology at Harvard University. His books include Forging Industrial Policy: The United States, Britain, and France in the Railway Age; The New Economic Sociology: A Reader (Princeton); and The Global Diffusion of Markets and Democracy.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
May 26, 2009
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Pages
360
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ISBN
9781400830893
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Language
English
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Genres
Business & Economics / Human Resources & Personnel Management
Business & Economics / Labor
Business & Economics / Office Management
Business & Economics / Workplace Culture
Law / Labor & Employment
Social Science / Discrimination & Race Relations
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Frank Dobbin
The new economic sociology is based on the theory that patterns of economic behavior are shaped by social factors. The Sociology of the Economy brings together a dozen path-breaking empirical studies that explore how social forces—such as shifts in political power, the influence of social networks, or the spread of new economic ideas—shape real-world economic behavior.

The contributors—all leading economic sociologists—show these social forces at work in a diverse range of international settings and historical circumstances. Examining why so many American banks followed industry leaders into foreign markets in the 1970s, only to pull back within a few years, Mark Mizruchi and Gerald Davis suggest that social emulation rather than rational calculation led banks to expand globally before there was any evidence that foreign offices paid off. William Schneper and Mauro Guillé show that despite the international diffusion of the hostile takeover during the last twenty years, the practice became widespread only in countries with political institutions conducive to buying and selling entire companies. Thus during the 1990s, the United States and United Kingdom. saw hundreds of hostile takeover bids, while Germany had only a handful, and Japan just one. Deborah Davis explores resistance to the globalization of Western ideas about real-estate ownership—particularly in China where the government has had little success in instituting a market system in place of traditional, family-based real-estate inheritance. And Richard Scott examines the controversial rise of managed care in the American healthcare system, as the quest for market efficiency collided with the ideal of equity in access to health care.

Together, these studies provide compelling evidence that economic behavior is not ruled by immutable laws, and is but one realm of social behavior, with its own conventions, roles, and social structures. The Sociology of the Economy demonstrates the vitality of empirical research in the field of economic sociology and the power of sociological models in explaining how markets operate.

Frank Dobbin
The new economic sociology is based on the theory that patterns of economic behavior are shaped by social factors. The Sociology of the Economy brings together a dozen path-breaking empirical studies that explore how social forces—such as shifts in political power, the influence of social networks, or the spread of new economic ideas—shape real-world economic behavior.

The contributors—all leading economic sociologists—show these social forces at work in a diverse range of international settings and historical circumstances. Examining why so many American banks followed industry leaders into foreign markets in the 1970s, only to pull back within a few years, Mark Mizruchi and Gerald Davis suggest that social emulation rather than rational calculation led banks to expand globally before there was any evidence that foreign offices paid off. William Schneper and Mauro Guillé show that despite the international diffusion of the hostile takeover during the last twenty years, the practice became widespread only in countries with political institutions conducive to buying and selling entire companies. Thus during the 1990s, the United States and United Kingdom. saw hundreds of hostile takeover bids, while Germany had only a handful, and Japan just one. Deborah Davis explores resistance to the globalization of Western ideas about real-estate ownership—particularly in China where the government has had little success in instituting a market system in place of traditional, family-based real-estate inheritance. And Richard Scott examines the controversial rise of managed care in the American healthcare system, as the quest for market efficiency collided with the ideal of equity in access to health care.

Together, these studies provide compelling evidence that economic behavior is not ruled by immutable laws, and is but one realm of social behavior, with its own conventions, roles, and social structures. The Sociology of the Economy demonstrates the vitality of empirical research in the field of economic sociology and the power of sociological models in explaining how markets operate.

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