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Estlund, Cynthia. Working Together: Crossing Color Lines at Work
2005, Labor History. 46 (1):79-98
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Added by: Deryn Mair Thomas
Abstract: Amidst signs of declining social capital, the typical workplace is a hotbed of sociability and cooperation. And in a still-segregated society, the workplace is where adults are most likely to interact across color lines. The convergence of close interaction and some racial diversity makes the workplace a crucial institution within a diverse democratic society. Paradoxically, the involuntariness of workplace associations—the compulsion of economic necessity, of managerial authority, and of law—helps to facilitate constructive interaction among diverse co-workers. Where racial diversity is a fact of organizational life (and the law can help to make it so), then employers and workers have their own powerful reasons—psychological and economic—to make those relationships constructive, even amicable. I contend here that it is where we are compelled to get along, and not where we choose to do so, that we can best advance the project of racial integration.

Comment (from this Blueprint): This text raises interesting questions about the relationship between diverse workplaces and democratic practices, and in particular, makes an interesting argument about the implications for racial integration. It can therefore be used to prompt students to think generally about democratic political structures, citizenship, and equality, while also encouraging discussion in particular about the role that work plays in promoting good civic practices.

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