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The good temp - Vicki Smith

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The good temp
Vicki Smith
Paperback / softback
ILR Press
UK Publication Date

Temporary agencies place approximately two and a half million people in jobs each day in the United States. Every year, about twelve million people use these placement agencies to find temporary work. Many Americans, even those who desire permanent jobs, decide to enter the labor market through the portal of temporary agencies. Compared with the post-World War II era, when it was a marginal labor practice, temporary employment is today an entrenched feature of jobs and labor markets. How have temporary employment relationships become so widespread and normalized? In The Good Temp, Vicki Smith and Esther B. Neuwirth provide some novel answers to this question.

Their provocative analysis is based on an insider's view of the interior dynamics of a temporary help agency in Silicon Valley. It incorporates a historical perspective on the rise of the temporary help service industry. Smith and Neuwirth document how this powerful industry not only created a new market for temporary labor but also played a fundamental role in the erosion of the permanent employment model. They analyze how agencies themselves came to manufacture and market this reinvented product-the good temp, an employee who is effective and efficient, committed, and sometimes preferable to a permanent staff member.

Joining extensive participant observation data with historical analysis, The Good Temp contains some surprising findings about temporary employment today and fills a significant gap in our understanding of this important labor relationship.

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Vicki Smith is Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Davis. She is the author of Crossing the Great Divide, also from Cornell, and Managing in the Corporate Interest. Esther B. Neuwirth is an applied researcher at the Care Management Institute, Kaiser Permanente, in Oakland, California.

"The argument made throughout the book is that the increased use of temporary employment over time was not simply a result of an increase in demand for that kind of work, but rather was the result of the wide-spread adoption of attitudes and beliefs within the corporate world regarding the supposed benefits of temporary labor; attitudes and beliefs which had been carefully constructed by the THS industry itself.... Smith and Neuwirth's book is an extremely balanced account of temp agencies and temporary employment.... It will make compelling reading for anyone interested in this particular subject matter, and it provides is a fascinating window into the world of temporary employment and the THS industry."

Qualitative Sociology Review - James Skinner

"This clearly argued, readable, and perceptive book is laudable for its refusal to accept the functionalist logic that temporary work and workers arise unproblematically out of market 'necessity,' and for its corresponding analysis of how particular employment relations are culturally legitimated and organizationally embedded. I especially appreciate the innovative use of ethnography to study practices and connections among individual and institutional actors in a labor market, rather than the internal workings of a single organization."

American Journal of Sociology

"In The Good Temp, Vicki Smith and Esther Neuwirth examine the process of market-making in the segment of the temporary help industry in which agencies place workers with relatively limited skills into temporary, entry-level clerical, administrative, and light manufacturing positions. The strength of this book is that it does not conclude with the content analysis, as a typical journal might. Rather, it uses data from participant observation to show how temporary help agencies attempt to make the promise of 'the good temp' a reality. The book argues that the temporary help industry did not simply argue that it was possible for firms to employ good temps; rather, they implemented operating practices that created 'good temps.'."

Administrative Science Quarterly

Keyword Index
Temporary employees - United States.|Temporary help services - United States.|Temporary employment - United States.
Country of Publication
New York (State)
Number of Pages

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