Bearman_Preface - Peter Bearman is chair ofthe Department...

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Unformatted text preview: Peter Bearman is chair ofthe Department of Sociology at Columbia University and director of the Institute for'Social and Economic Research and Poiiey. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 6063-: The University of Chicago Press. Ltd, London © 2005 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Published 2005 Printed in the United States of America 14.1312 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 1 2 3 ‘1‘ 5 I ISBN: 0—226-03969—2 (cloth) ISBN: 0-226-03970-6 (paper) Library of Congress Cataloging?iniPuhlication Data Bearman, Peter S., 1956— Doormen / Peter Bearman. p. cm. * (Fieldwork encounters and discoveries) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-226-039691(cloth:alk.paper)— [S EN 0—226 —o3970~6 (pbk.: alk. paper) 1. Apartment doorkeepers. I. Title. II. Series. 1113803938951142 2005 305.9'6472—dc22 2004028621 @ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences v Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI 2394871992. ORMEN Peter Bearman The University ofChicogo Press / Chicago and London PREFACE Many books are reported by their authors to have a long history. This book is an exception to the general rule. But, as with all things, one can look back to a beginning of sorts and tell a story. Here is a story of this book. In 1987 I came up to Columbia University from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to give a talk. In the evening, Iwas to meet the chair of the sociology department, Ron Burt, at his apartment. From there we were going out for dinner. I‘was late getting to his apartment. I had already arrived at the conclusion that coming to Columbia at that time was aimistake, and I compounded the problem by making a series of bad decisions all evening. Fear of the subway led me to try to take a taxi. But I wasn’t very successful. Now I find it somewhat amusing ' to watch tourists in New York City hail a taxi. They have a certain hesitancy that seems to invite taxi drivers to pass right by them. Back then it wasn’t funny, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get a taxi to stop. Inability to hail a taxi led me to decide I might as well just walk. And I had a long way to go. Burt's apartment was on Riverside Drive. It was a cold and wet night, and the wind off the river made walking up the sidewalk especially painful. A light rain, almost sleet, cast an eerie silence on the street. As I walked up 7 Riverside, I saw few signs of life. The neighborhood was deserted; I finally arrived at the building, entered through the first set of doors, found Ron’s name, and pushed the buzzer. As I was talking to him on the house phone, a shadowy figure appeared at the outer door and started to come in. I don’t remember much about what he looked like. I remember thinking then that I should try to get a good look so I could pick him out of a police lineup, but I didn’t want to let him see that I was looking at him. He was wearing a dark raincoat. I briefly saw a large hat covering his face. As I reached for the door, waiting to be buzzed in, I positioned myself to block his entry. The door buzzed, I slid to the right, opened it, and tried to slide through. Behind me I could hear him saying something. As I got through the door, his hand reached out and grabbed it. I knew that I needed to stop him from entering the building, and so slashing at his arm, I broke his grip on the door, slammed it shut, and raced for the elevator. Luckily, the elevator was waiting on the first floor. Looking back through the door, I could see that he had his hand back through and that, somehow, he had managed to push the inner door open. The elevator door closed and I went up to the ix 5; Preface tenth floor. I pushed the buttons for floors 11 to 14,. I figured that this way, the elevator would continue to go up before it went back down to the lobby, giving me more time to find and get-into the apartment. As it turned out, it was no problem finding the apartment. There were just two to a floor, and my host’s name was on the door. He opened right away and l sped in, relieved to be safe but also still extremely worried. During the first few minutes we were in the apartment, I told Ron about the guy who'had broken in and how I had feared that he would. follow me up. I was especially worried because I was afraid he might have thought I had seen his face and therefore had motivation to figure out what floor I had gone to. I knew that Ron had little children, and I was worried that I might have also put them at risk. -I felt bad that I hadn’t made sure that the door was really closed behind me. Hon seemed concerned, too, and asked me to describe the intruder. I did the best I could —but there was not much to say. The coat and the hat obscured most of his personal features, and I really hadn’t gotten a good look at his face. But, somehow, I had said enough for Ron. He went to the phone and made a call. When he returned, he said that we needed to get moving since we were late. On the way down the elevator, I thought I saw him fumbling for his wallet. I thought I should follow his lead and so shifted my wallet from my back to my front pocket, for extra safety. The door opened to the lobby. Directlyin front of us was the intruder; he hadn’t followed me up, but he had waited for me to come down. As I stepped back, Ron stepped forward and (I believe) handed him some money. I “I’m sorry,” he said. “He didn’t knowwho you were. You scaredhim. ” “That’s okay,” he said. “I tried to keep him out of the building, but he just pushed me away. It was my fault. " That was the first doormanl ever met. It would be eleven years before I returned to Columbia. When I came back to New York, I was a little more sophisticated, but not much. The city had changed. No longer did it seem (to me) reasonable to think that every corner was a potential minefield replete with crack-crazed killers. The crime rate was lower; the city was in a renaissance. And this time, instead of criminals everywhere, I saw doormen everywhere. On the street where our temporary apartment was located, there were always at least four doormen out at any one time. In our building we had doorman service from 4:00 pm. until midnight. Within the first few days, the doormen learned our names. They recognized my kids and started to keep an eye on them. And they were Preface XI exceptionally polite and respectful. In some ways, I found them obseq‘uious and it' bothered me that they were seemingly so oriented to my comfort. More disturbing was the attitude that the other residents — mostly Columbia faculty— seemed to have toward the doormen. It was hard to put my finger on it, but they seemed to adopt (or fall into) a paternalistic frame when talking with the doormen. They would refer to them by their first name; in- turn, they were almost always addressed as “Professor.” I noticed this and it made me uneasy, but I could not exactly understand what was bothering me fthe doormen, the tenants, or their joint performance. At first, I found my new colleagues difficult and arrogant for no obvious reasons. I spent a lot of my time trying to understand why Columbia pros fessors were so difficult-The real problem that one faces when trying to explain something is to identify the features of the context that are unique. It couldn't be that I found Columbia professors arrogant because they taught at a prestigious Ivy League university— since I had not found other Ivy League professors to be so problematic. Whatever caused their arrogance, it had to be something unique either to Columbia or to the city. There were a number of competing explanations that I considered, but by the end of the first month, I had developed an elegant theory. Their arrogance was the result of the doormen. The logic was simple. Doormen, as with all people, need to feel good about what they do. Putting myself in their shoes, it seemed obvious that I would feel better about serving really important people than ordinary people. And it seemed obvious to me that the higher the status of their residents, the higher would be their own status. Consequently, my theory went, for inchoate and unarticulated self—interested reasons, each doorman had a personal interest in elevating the status of the people who lived in his building. Columbia professors, under this model, were being bombarded each day with undeserved status "gifts." My idea was that after a while — how long was unclear to me — the faculty actually started to believe that they deserved such status, that they really were important people. I thought I was observing a whole new arena for the Matthew effect.I It didn’t take long to 1. The Matthew effect is the idea that prominent individuals benefit and marginal individuals suffer as contributions of similar quality are evaluated differentially depending on the status of the contributor. Merton, “The Matthew Effect in Science”; Zuckerman and Merton. "Patterns of Evaluation in Science"; Cole and Cole, Social Stratification in Science. xii Preface generalize this theory to all New Yorkers, most of whom I had also found arrogant and difficult to get along with. This was a pretty theory, but obviously wrong. First, initial impressions nouvithstanding, Columbia professors are no more arrogant than other pro— fessors. Second, New Yorkers are nicer than most people, and, in any case, most N ewYorkers do not have doormen opening doors for them. And, finally, I misunderstood the nature of the-work that doormen do, their experiences, their aspirations and hopes. While it is also true that doormen’s status is in some part conditioned by the status of their tenants, the conditioning effect is less strong than I imagined. And over the years, I came to better understand my colleagues, those who are arrogant and those who are not. But my interest in doorman-did not leave. One could say that this project is a product of that interest. While written in the first person for ease of presentation, this book is in many ways a collaborative enterprise. Much of the work was done in the context of an introductory class in sociology— Evaluation of Evidence — at Columbia University. I had been thinking abstractly for some time about the feasibility of a largcsscale collective class project that would involve a multismethod, mu'lti—level design. The desire to make use of multiple kinds of data and the desire to design a multislevel study played a large role in the decision to study doormen. There were, as well, independent of intellectual reasons, some pragmatic issues that also had to be confronted in designing a collective study for college students — especially a study that actively involved extended hours in the field, observational data collection, sampling, surveying respondents, and inadepth personal interviews. ' Paramount in the pragmatic decision to study doormen —— again, not con- sidering the deeper intellectual issues discussed subsequentlyi'was the issue of risk. There is in sociology (and one supposes, as well, in everyday life) a general distaste for the ordinary. Most people would indeed find it more interesting to study heroin addicts, gangsters, petty crooks, denizens of the subways, or prostitutes — the “stuff” of much ethnographic research e but it would not have been prudent. Those on the margins of society live and work (if they do} in places that are dangerous. Sending students with little field experience, and often little urban living experience, out into the underworld was impossible. Instead, I needed to identify a population of “interesting” people who were easy to recognize and safe'to talk to, who could be found in safe neighborhoods, and who could complete their ins ...
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This note was uploaded on 02/03/2012 for the course SOC 2230 taught by Professor Sanyal during the Spring '11 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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Bearman_Preface - Peter Bearman is chair ofthe Department...

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