New Book is Out!

I’m late in announcing this, but my latest book, Affective Labour: (Dis)Assembling Distance and Difference (with Jennifer G. Correa) is now available as a hardback, paperback, and e-book. If you buy directly from Rowman and Littlefield, you can use the following promotional code and save 30%: RLI093

Below are some of the reviews:

Thomas and Correa offer an important empirical study of affective labor’s central role in sustaining two pillars of inequality: racial difference and socio-spatial distance. Noteworthy for its comparative and relational approaches, Affective Labour reveals the entwinements between racism and affect in everyday practices and places.
Paula Ioanide, Associate Professor of Comparative Race and Ethnicity Studies, Ithaca College

In this theoretically groundbreaking yet remarkably accessible book, Thomas and Correa establish a strong case for why affect should matter to scholars of race and racism, as well as to activists working for social justice. Affective Labour describes the painstaking work of identification, the crafting of difference, and the production of social distance, in effect asking how forms of violence and exclusion become imaginable or unimaginable. The book takes the reader on an intellectual journey from a college-town bar scene to the US-Mexico border, through the contemporary diversity regimes of predominantly white institutions. The authors then bring the lessons from these case studies to bear on the emergent affective politics of Black Lives Matter and similar radical democratic social movements. In spite of the grimly neoliberal landscapes of difference and inequality it explores, Affective Labour remains optimistic in its evocation of coming into being and the potential for an affect of liberation in progressive politics. ​
Rebecca R. Scott, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia

Bringing together critical social, cultural and political analysis, phenomenology and original ethnographic research, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the politics of affect. Thomas and Correa provide an imaginative and incisive account of how the manufacturing of gendered, racialised, sexualised, and classed relations of distance and difference is a matter of affective labour. Through a diverse range of in depth examples – from American nightlife cultures, to University diversity-initiatives, to the #BlackLivesMatter movement – the book offers a refreshing and distinctive examination of the affective work of everyday life and its wider critical implications. The analysis offered is at once productively troubling and optimistic: Contemporary forms of affective labour frequently work to reproduce relations of domination, but they also fuel solidarity, resistance and ‘a sense of hope for what can be, despite the reality of what is’.
Carolyn Pedwell, Senior Lecturer in Cultural Studies/Cultural Sociology, University of Kent

Thomas and Correa’s expansive research into distance and difference takes us on an immersive journey into configurations of affective subjectivity – from above and below. Carefully crafted case studies of urban nightlife in Columbia, Missouri, ‘War on Terror’ at the US-Mexico border, diversity regimes in higher education, and the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, underline why affect should be of critical concern to social, cultural and political theorists. Affective Labour is an original and timely contribution that will have implications for how we approach the politics of difference in the classroom, the polity and on the street.
Christopher Kyriakides, Associate Professor of Sociology, York University, Canada


Working to Laugh, in a Bookstore Near You!

My book is out! It’s available on, or directly through the Rowman and Littlefield website. If you buy from Rowman and Littlefield, use the promo code “LEX30AUTH15” for a 30% discount.

If you’re unsure about ordering a personal copy, be a good colleague and ask your library to order one!

Working to Laugh (2015)

Thomas, James M. Working to Laugh: Assembling Difference in American Stand-Up Comedy Venues (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015)

Laugh Through It: Assembling Difference in an American Stand-Up Comedy Club

Check out my newest article, ‘Laugh Through it,’ available online first through the journal, Ethnography


Through an examination of a Midwestern professional comedy club, this article theorizes stand-up comedy as part of the broader affective-cultural assemblage that is nightlife entertainment. Using the Deleuzian notion of assemblage, this analysis builds on poststructural accounts of the dynamic and transient properties of culture, and the relationship between space, culture, and affect. As a specific affective-cultural assemblage, stand-up comedy operates as both constrainer and enabler of racial and heteronormative order through the bringing together of a variety of diverse logics and practices. I argue that stand-up comedy should no longer be thought of strictly in discursive or symbolic-interactionist terms that over-determine the roles of particular agents (i.e. comics). Instead, when described as emergent, transient, and fundamentally affective, stand-up comedy and other cultural forms can be seen for their openness and multiplicity, both contributing to racial and heteronormative order as well as upending it.

Workers of the World Unite?: Marx, Weber, and the Fast-Food Workers’ Strike

The past two weeks in my Social Stratification course, we’ve covered several classic readings on stratification and social order: Adam Smith’s Of the Division of Labor, Marx’s Alienated Labor and Wage-Labor and Capital, Weber’s Class, Status, and Party, and DuBois’s Of the Dawn of Freedom, to name a few.

One of my objectives in this section is to get students to see how these classic (and, in some cases, dated) texts relate to contemporary issues of stratification. In moving from Marx’s theory of social order flowing from the political economy (relations of production) to Weber’s theory of social order flowing from a combination of the political economy and status, it struck me that a useful question to ask my class was why are so many Americans resistant to demands for fair-wage practices coming from the Fast Food Industry?

In scanning online mass media coverage of fast-food worker strikes, and in particular the comments sections, I found that workers were frequently described by posters as ‘lazy’, ‘incompetent’, ‘unskilled’, ‘unmotivated’, and ‘undeserving’. Statements like “It seems that America is becoming more lazy and the masses that are demanding more are contributing less and less, were common. Furthermore, I noticed several instances where commentators and posters justified low wages among fast-food workers by referencing less-than-ideal wages for high-status occupations, like school-teachers and public service workers (police officers, firefighters, etc.).

I asked my class what Marx might say about this matter: many of them felt that Marx would question a system so resistant to providing basic necessities to its members based on a drive for profit. Others correctly pointed out that Marx, in “Alienated Labor”, clearly states, “an enforced raising of wages would be nothing but a better slave-salary and would not achieve for the worker or for labor significance or dignity.” For these students, raising the minimum wage would be a form of appeasement, but ultimately would not disrupt capitalism.

I redirected their attention to Weber, asking them how Weber might explain the resistance of so many Americans to fast-food workers’ demands. In a previous class period, we watched “Wealth Inequality in America“, which highlights the increasingly uneven distribution of wealth among the U.S. population. I asked them to think back to that video. The information in the video demonstrates that Americans in the middle quintile of wealth distribution (40-60%) have more in common with those in the bottom quintile than they do with those in the top. Even those in the fourth highest quintile of wealth distribution have more in common with those in the bottom quintile than they do with the top five-percent of Americans.

I asked my students to think of occupations that have relatively high social value, or prestige, but relatively low median earnings. Many of them identified school teachers, police officers, firefighters, and even university faculty (hell yeah!). I informed them that one of the fastest growing occupations in the U.S. is the hospice worker. Most agreed that this is an important job, with high social value. Many were surprised, however, at how low their median wages are (less than $11/hr). Here is a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that projects the fastest growing occupations from 2010-2020, and their median wages:

Fastest Growing JobsPersonal aides and home health aides (think hospice workers) clearly dominate this projection. Other than biomedical engineers, many of the fastest growing occupations pay well below the U.S. median household income ($51,324 in 2011). We don’t often think of hospice workers, pipelayers, iron workers, carpenters, or aides to physical and occupational therapists as ‘lazy’, ‘incompetent’, ‘unskilled’, ‘unmotivated’, and ‘undeserving’. These jobs do require skills, they do require some training, and yet they pay only marginally better than the fast-food industry.

I show this data to my students to help them understand Weber’s position that status is still very important for maintaining our existing system of stratification. The role of status is evident in other low-wage workers’ responses to fast-food workers’ demands for better pay in their own industry. Rather than recognize common class interests among fast-food workers and Americans working in other, low-wage earning occupations, many Americans align themselves with the class interests of the elite through their perceived status relative to fast food workers. I anticipate this will spark a discussion centered on the power of the media, and its role in producing and maintaining hegemony over the public. It’s important to inform students that while they’re correct in identifying the media’s contributions to maintenance of contemporary stratification, we also need to think deeply about the role of other institutions, and social actors within them (How, for instance, do colleges and universities contribute to class and status stratification? What about departments, faculty, and students?).

Our next step in examining classic theories of stratification is to ask how would DuBois respond to Weber and Marx if he were to enter this conversation?