Member Publication

Please check out a recent publication from OOW member Christopher Andrews: The Overworked Consumer: Self-Checkouts, Supermarkets, and the Do-It-Yourself Economy.

The Overworked Consumer examines how the growing use of self-service technology in the U.S. economy has contributed to Americans’ feelings of busyness and overwork by asking them to perform a variety of tasks in work-like settings for free. Focusing on the adoption of self-checkout lanes in the retail food industry, the book describes how self-service technology is changing the meaning of service in an economy where the boundaries between work and leisure are becoming increasingly blurred. Are big businesses simply being cheap and lazy, preferring to automate and outsource work to unpaid consumers instead of raising wages, or is self-service and its do-it-yourself ethos a response to consumers’ demands for faster, easier ways of buying goods and services? And what exactly are shoppers getting when they go through the self-checkout lane? Is it really faster than the cashier lane or just another illusory speed-up meant to distract them from the realization that they are performing unpaid work, unwitting participants in a new retail experiment whose roots can be traced back to the very invention of the modern supermarket? And what about the effect on jobs; is this the end of the checkout line for cashiers and similar forms of work, or are such anxieties over automation overstated? To answer these questions, the author takes readers inside SuperFood, a regional supermarket chain, drawing upon extensive interviews with managers, staff, and customers as well as an array of examples, retail studies, and statistics to separate fact from fiction and figure out what is actually happening in stores. Concluding with a cautionary tale of two grocers, the author suggests the future of retailing is still undetermined, meaning shoppers still have time to decide whether or not they really want to “do-it-yourself”. Caveat emptor.

Those who are interested can also find a post over at the ASA Consumption and Consumers blog as well as a recent article in Sociological Inquiry:

Andrews, C. (2018), The End of Work or Overworked? Self‐Service, Prosumer Capitalism, and “Irrational Work”. Sociol Inq, 88: 649-672. doi:10.1111/soin.12223

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