Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Sociological Inquiry







Publisher Name



Welfare‐to‐work training (workfare) programs are designed to technically and affectively prepare marginalized people for jobs that are often routinized and dirty. They are expected to accept personal responsibility for their situation and demonstrate submission to bosses as means of “working off” their “debt” to society. Ethnographic observation at workfare training sites has tended to emphasize the indignities that trainees suffer, with less attention to how workers maintain dignity in the face of these experiences. Using ethnographic observation and interviews in a Chicago workfare kitchen training program, we show that neoliberal kitchen training work encompasses paradoxical expectations for trainee‐workers; they must demonstrate high levels of discretion and creativity required in professional kitchen work and demonstrate submission to charismatic authority as a means of getting kitchen work done and of affective compliance with the goals of the program. To combat the direct efforts of others to produce indignities, trainees developed two dignity strategies that are highly dependent on the structure of kitchen work: operating in a slipstream, and banking confidence that allows them to take liberties normally allowed for chef‐trainers. These findings contribute to sociological understandings of workplace dignity, a privilege that has been especially elusive for the poor under welfare‐to‐work programs.


Author Posting © Alpha Kappa Delta: The International Sociology Honor Society, 2019. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Alpha Kappa Delta: The International Sociology Honor Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Sociological Inquiry, Volume 90, Issue 1, February 2020.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Included in

Sociology Commons