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Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory (Paperback)
  • Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory (Paperback)

Retirement on the Line: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory (Paperback)

Paperback 240 Pages / Published: 17/04/2012
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In an era when people live longer and want (or need) to work past the traditional retirement age, the Vita Needle Company of Needham, Massachusetts, provides inspiration and important lessons about the value of older workers. Vita Needle is a family-owned factory that was founded in 1932 and makes needles, stainless steel tubing and pipes, and custom fabricated parts. As part of its unusual business model, the company seeks out older workers; the median age of the employees is seventy-four.

In Retirement on the Line, Caitrin Lynch explores what this company's commitment to an elderly workforce means for the employer, the workers, the community, and society more generally. Benefiting from nearly five years of fieldwork at Vita Needle, Lynch offers an intimate portrait of the people who work there, a nuanced explanation of the company's hiring practices, and a cogent analysis of how the workers' experiences can inform our understanding of aging and work in the twenty-first century. As an in-depth study of a singular workplace, rooted in the unique insights of an anthropologist who specializes in the world of work, this book provides a sustained focus on values and meanings-with profound consequences for the broader assumptions our society has about aging and employment.

Publisher: Cornell University Press
ISBN: 9780801477782
Number of pages: 240
Weight: 340 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm


"In Retirement on the Line, Caitrin Lynch provides a welcome ethnography of the labors of old workers at Vita Needle, a family-owned factory in Needham, Massachusetts.... Lynch does a superb job of attending to the voices of old workers in this factory, revealing the complex labor relations within contemporary capitalism, and complicating the discussion of exploitation. The readability of her book makes it an excellent addition to courses not only on aging but in the sociology of work, which tends to ignore old workers or see them as something 'other'-and for this reason, it also stands as a scholarly contribution for those who examine paid work."-Toni Calasanti, American Journal of Sociology(September 2013)-

"Stressing a 'cultural anthropology' vantage point, and claiming that new understandings may arise from duly considered work in its culture-related dynamics, this book actually delivers valuable learnings on capitalism as a cultural frame. We learn from it not so much on the meanings of working at old age, but rather on old age capitalism and its meanings. Studying workers who take the accumulation of surplus-value as the measure of all values- this certainly provides a lesson on the undeniable resilience and continuance of the capitalist worldview." -Critique of Anthropology

"The book is based on intensive ethnographic research undertaken by the author during 2006- 2011. Working on Vita's shop floor, side by side with factory employees, enabled the author to produce a rich, nuanced, and insightful piece of anthropological writing that not only explores 'what work means for people ... of conventional retirement age'(3), but also touches upon broader social issues such as aging, productivity, and work ethic in the contemporary United States. . . .Lynch's book expands beyond a mere case study and proposes broader reflections on the struggles and aspirations of elderly employees-a group rarely studied by sociologists of work."-HannaGospodarczyk, Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research (2015)

"Caitrin Lynch's ethnography of Vita Needle is excellent. Retirement on the Line brings vivid humanity to the issues of aging and the meaning of work."-Jennie Keith, Swarthmore College, author of Old People, New Lives

"There is a great, strong story at the heart of Retirement on the Line: a light industrial factory staffed by persons in their seventies, eighties, and even older. Caitrin Lynch's book is about a concentration of old (not older) workers and the local work culture they have created. Because she, too, worked at Vita Needle among them, her account is all the more trustworthy and vivid."-David J. Ekerdt, University of Kansas

"Through her moving ethnography of the Vita Needle factory and its elderly workers, Caitrin Lynch raises provocative questions about what it means to age and what it means to work in our contemporary global economy."-Jane Collins, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of Threads: Gender, Labor & Power in the Global Economy

"Are there workers with an average age of 75 years who have freedom, flexibility, choice, and a personal sense of control in the workplace and who are willing to accept minimum wages and (with Medicare coverage) no other health insurance? The author found them at Vita Needle, a small factory in Needham, Massachusetts that manufactures needles for a wide array of uses. Caitrin Lynch's skilled and thorough analysis of the workers' stories is sure to capture readers' interest in the value of employment after 'retirement.' Lynch's interviews and sympathetic participant observations also inform her portrait of Vita Needle's employment tactics and the effects of extensive media coverage on the workers' lives. Policymakers, students of labor, and individuals facing retirement will find this book absorbing and revealing."-Francille M. Firebaugh, Dean Emerita, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University and Vice-Chair, Board of Directors, Families and Work Institute

"Retirement on the Line is an outstanding ethnography carrying readers inside a suburban U.S. needle factory whose employees' median age is 74. As Caitrin Lynch explores the daily lives of elder factory workers who choose to remain economically productive long after "retirement," she challenges taken-for-granted assumptions about aging, work, and value in late life and helps us rethink what retirement can mean at a time when economic crises are threatening state and private pensions. Its mix of wise insight into big-picture themes and intimate portraits makes the book a truly engrossing and enlightening read. It will have a large impact and a wide audience, both lay and academic."-Sarah Lamb, Brandeis University, author of White Saris and Sweet Mangoes: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India

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