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Bad Jobs or ‘Badass’ Jobs? Fishing Guides, Self-Employment, and Service Work in the New Economy

posted on 01.05.2020, 00:00 by Timothy Adkins
In an era of polarizing job quality, where uncertainty and precarity are the new normal of the labor market, interactive service work is oft regarded as a ‘bad’ job and feminine-coded. How might it be, then, that some forms of insecure service work are considered ideal and even masculine? In this dissertation, I use the case of for-hire captains specializing in fishing tourism services—i.e. “fishing guides”—to highlight the interactional and organizational dynamics that allow and constrain the masculinization of service work. Drawing on interviews with seventy captains and six other stakeholders, I find that the self-employed leverage their independent employment relation to avoid traditional emotional labor and sort out clients who do not allow them to experience their work as authentic, masculine, and ‘badass.’ But in doing so, these men shift from selling a service to selling the self—a move that makes them more personally vulnerable, engaging in unpaid labor to maintain relationships with elite clientele. Beyond their agentic efforts, I reveal the shifting organizational terrain of a tourism-driven economy that underlies and threatens old business models and the marine environment in which guides labor. These findings shed light on the possibilities and limits of power, autonomy, and masculinities in contemporary interactive service industries and non-standard employment relations.



Bielby, William T


Bielby, William T



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

McInerney, Paul-Brian Popielarz, Pamela Flores-Gonzalez, Nilda Lopez, Steven H

Submitted date

May 2020

Thesis type