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Handbook of Gender, Work, and Organization by Patricia Yancey Martin, David Knights,, Emma L Jeanes

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Chapter 5

Theorizing Gender, Race, and Class in Organizations

Joan Acker

University of Oregon, Eugene

Gender, class, and race are concepts standing for large, complex processes of difference and inequality that exist in varying forms and degrees in all societies. One example is economic inequality, including wealth and income gaps between women and men, between managers and workers, and between people of different race or ethnic identities. Such inequality is found everywhere, although the cultural contexts and severity of inequality varies between societies, as well as between sub-units within societies.1 How does this happen, and why? Part of the answer to the ‘how’ question is found in the inequalities created in work organizations, through unequal wages and unequal distributions of power and control that have persisted over time. Because organizations are a major source of income in industrial countries, studying organizations can reveal many of the actual practices through which inequalities of gender, race, and class are reproduced. Such research can also contribute to understanding why inequalities persist, even as programs for gender and race equality begin to reduce some forms of discrimination.

The study of gender, class, and race/ethnicity have each developed as separate research traditions, each with its own theories, findings, and institutional locations, as Patricia Hill Collins (1995) has pointed out. Scholars within each of these distinct areas have studied the ...

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