Social & Education Policy

Culture Wars in the Workplace?: Cultural Antecedents of Workers’ Job Entitlement

Wallace, M.; Leicht, K.T.
02/2004

Abstract

This article revisits Hunter’s (1991) culture wars thesis and applies it to an institutional arena that has received comparatively little attention in the culture wars debate—the contemporary American workplace. The authors ask to what extent cultural divisions originating in four broad cultural domains (i.e., social equality, social freedom, multiculturalism, and gender equity) permeate the workplace and impact workers’views of the property rights of jobs. That is, do cultural values originating in the larger society affect workers’evaluations of managerial prerogative to make unilateral decisions in the best interests of the firm without regard to workers’ claims to their jobs? Or, conversely, do such cultural values shape workers’sense of job entitlement that jobs should be protected in times of changing technology, declining demand for a firm’s product, or other organizational and market imperatives? The authors use data from the Indiana Quality of Employment Survey to examine several hypotheses surrounding this debate. The results suggest that the relationship between cultural values and specific, work-based ideologies are more complicated than Hunter’s original formulation might suggest; that is, there are complex and nonobvious relationships between these four domains of American cultural life and workers’ views concerning job entitlement. These relationships are not significantly mediated by organizational and occupational characteristics normally associated with workplace attitudes. The results speak to broader debates about the role of structure and culture in the sociology of work and the complexity of the ideological landscape of American working life.