Date of Degree

2009

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

Mitchell Duneier

Committee Members

Hester Eisenstein

Charles Green

Subject Categories

Sociology

Abstract

As economic globalization progresses, employment is becoming more flexible and informalized in many parts of the world. In some developing countries, direct sales (selling branded products from person to person) is an increasingly attractive type of work, especially for women. Direct sales organizations benefit from cultural norms and structural forces that steer women away from full-time jobs in the formal economy, and also from the material conditions that lead to women's need to earn an income. This study examines the work experiences and social worlds of women affiliated with Ecuador's most successful direct sales company, Yanbal, with a focus on the ways in which women make decisions about their work and construct their identities as working women and members of families. The meanings and consequences of the women's work are placed in the context of gender relations, regimes of physical appearance, employment options, and consumption. Employing a combination of qualitative methods (ethnography, content analysis, surveys), the study argues that people's reactions to direct sales as an income-generating activity both shape and are shaped by their gendered economic strategies, behaviors that represent a reconciling of cultural norms of gender and work with material conditions and pressing financial needs. The work addresses questions such as: whether direct selling is empowering for women; how Yanbal can achieve success in Ecuador's challenging economic climate; and how cultural and social norms regulating women's physical appearance are related to ideas about gender, social class, and work. The findings of this study underline the importance of examining a rapidly-expanding type of work, a formal-informal hybrid that appeals mainly to women and helps to promote the expansion of consumer capitalism around the world.

Comments

Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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Sociology Commons

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