As most students learn during the course of high school and college there are a very limited number of jobs available, and most of them encompass the world of retail and the service industry. Unfortunately I have been in the retail/customer service field for the past 7 years between high school and college and I have noticed a distinct rift between management and the entry level employees in regards to maintaining the power relationships inherent in these institutions.
Often the management at these types of jobs consist of individuals who are either freshly out of college with little management experience or have little formal higher level education and have been in a management position for a number of years and were not able to advance any higher within the company whether it was due to a lack of education or a lack of performance. The entry level employees can range anywhere from 15/16 year olds with little life experience to graduate level students who likely are more educated than their supervisors. Both ends of this spectrum can produce instability within the distribution of power due to a clash between the entry level employees and their bosses.
For the younger, inexperienced employees they are used to the power relationships with their parents and teachers and expect that everything should be on the level and mostly fair. However it is in my experience that, particularly in retail settings, members of management tend to enjoy being in a position of power and tend to enjoy flexing their managerial power. By this display of institutional power over lower level employees they can ensure a constant level of obedience and often squanders potential defiance to their authority.
However in my most recent experiences it is the attitude of some retail management towards more educated non-management employees that can be far more malicious in its intent. This is particularly evident in the instances in which older aged management who have been stuck in the same position for a long period of time are in charge of employees with higher levels of education. I have witnessed numerous incidents of management taking unfair action against college student employees because of conflicts with school requirements when there are possible solutions that do not require unnecessary disciplinary action. I have seen that much of this comes from jealousy towards the employee, feeling that their job security may be threatened because of a lower level employee is more qualified, or a feeling of inadequacy in a leadership role that leads to vengeful action towards the lower level employee.
Interestingly enough all of this, which is similar to the ethnographic accounts of Bourgois, also has ties to Mary Douglas’s theory of boundary maintenance. It is through the use of this managerial power against lower level employees, warranted or not, that allows the management to maintain the boundaries between themselves and the “regular” employees.