Cashier and after ?

Mathias Waelli, Cashier… and after ?. A survey among the workers in the large distribution, Puf, Coll ” knowledge Sharing “, 2009

The work of Mathias Waelli could offer a perfect example in the last book of Jean Peneff, The taste of observation. Understanding and practicing participant observation in the social sciences1. Indeed, it is a story rich and searched multiple surveys conducted in supermarkets. Cashier… and after ? A survey among the workers of the mass distribution traces the experience of the author during five years of participant observation at several hypermarkets of the large French distribution. The book provides a narrative involved, and very pleasant to read, and that shows a taste of the investigation pronounced and an ability to lead from front, professional activity, and field survey.

The book takes the form of a chronological account of the different experiences in the field. The author takes care to present each new situation investigation, accurate and always relevant. The reader gets acquainted with the interviewees, the contacts on the ground… From a methodological point of view, the book is effective. Contrary to what the title might let consider, the experience in the field is not limited to only the experiences in a crate, but has been carried out from different positions of observation : crates, linear, service invoice…

The analyses are distilled throughout the book : versatility of the tasks, routine, service to the customer, feminization of work, reports to the hierarchy at work, the links forged during the breaks are evoked through concrete cases. Only a chapter concluding “the Return on the worlds” offers a more systematic analysis of the work of the cashiers.

A point, however, remains annoying : the theoretical concept on which seems to rest the analysis is never made explicit, nor mobilized as such. On several occasions, the term “world” is used to characterize parties with work colleagues : “The world of Jocelyne” (p 51), “Catherine’s world” (p 53), “Inhabitants of a liquid world” (p 55), “The world of Mary : a collective solidarity” (p 87)…but he is not included in the course of the presentation. So that one wonders if it is a tool of theoretical analysis or not. Reused in the party-oriented synthetic to the end, ” the Return on the worlds “, the term is no longer referenced or acknowledged. They wonder, finally, what is the ground of theoretical which feeds the analysis. Should we read the book as a testimony to the world of work in cash, as called for by the first sentence of the conclusion (p 235) : “This testimony would not have any object other than narcissistic …” ?

If this is the case, Mathias Waelli we offer a testimony to the quality, dense and diverse. His book is an invitation to perceive differently the world of the large distribution : from the inside, from the point of view of those who are working in strategic positions and however little recognized. The logical actors are always well-made. This book succeeds in the wager to get to know better the workers of the large-scale distribution, transporting the reader into the shadow areas of hypermarkets.

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