WORKING TEMP: HOW TEMPORARY EMPLOYEES FIND MEANING THROUGH LIFE COURSE NARRATIVES
Zirkle, Brian L.
University of Kansas
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Using qualitative interviews, I examine the way that workers contracted with temporary employment agencies make sense of their work lives. Temp work is structured and organized in such a way that leads to unstable and fragmented work experiences and often sporadic employment. In such conditions, traditional sources of meaning are often unavailable as the jobs held have little intrinsic value and temps are often socially isolated in the workplace. Yet the participants in this study did find their experiences as temps meaningful by symbolically connecting their work with experiences, roles, and relationships they had in their broader lives outside of work. Through what I refer to as life course narratives, participants created stories that explained how their temp work aided certain transitions they were experiencing in their lives. For some, temp work was part of the college experience and part of the process of finding their career jobs. For retirees, particular those who retired early, it was a way of transitioning into that new stage in their lives. For others, it was a means of recovering from some sort of personal or family tragedy and moving back into the normative trajectory of the life course. Minority participants in particular perceived temp work as a way of escaping lives in crisis. It was a viewed as a chance of escaping economic marginality born out of institutionalized forms of discrimination, the stigmatization of the black urban poor, and bad personal decisions. Others viewed temp work itself as a source of crisis that had derailed their lives in devastating ways.
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- Sociology Dissertations and Theses 
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