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Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century

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"For years Wal-Mart and its critics have been locked in a high-profile contest to define the meaning and calculate the morality of America's largest private-sector employer. Rebekah Massengill brings a sophisticated understanding of language, culture, and ideology to her deconstruction of the rhetoric and symbolism deployed by the contestants, in the process demonstrating "For years Wal-Mart and its critics have been locked in a high-profile contest to define the meaning and calculate the morality of America's largest private-sector employer. Rebekah Massengill brings a sophisticated understanding of language, culture, and ideology to her deconstruction of the rhetoric and symbolism deployed by the contestants, in the process demonstrating that concepts like family, community, fairness, and citizenship are both highly malleable and explosively political." -Nelson Lichtenstein , author of The Retail Revolution Wal-Mart is America's largest retailer. The national chain of stores is a powerful stand-in of both the promise and perils of free market capitalism. Yet it is also often the target of public outcry for its labor practices, to say nothing of class-action lawsuits, and a central symbol in America's increasingly polarized political discourse over consumption, capitalism and government regulations. In many ways the battle over Wal-Mart is the battle between "Main Street" and "Wall Street" as the fate of workers under globalization and the ability of the private market to effectively distribute precious goods like health care take center stage. In Wal-Mart Wars, Rebekah Massengill shows that the economic debates are not about dollars and cents, but instead represent a conflict over the deployment of deeper symbolic ideas about freedom, community, family, and citizenship. Wal-Mart Wars argues that the family is not just a culture wars issue to be debated with regard to same-sex marriage or the limits of abortion rights; rather, the family is also an idea that shapes the ways in which both conservative and progressive activists talk about economic issues, and in the process, construct different moral frameworks for evaluating capitalism and its most troubling inequalities. With particular attention to political activism and the role of big business to the overall economy, Massengill shows that the fight over the practices of this multi-billion dollar corporation can provide us with important insight into the dreams and realities of American capitalism. Rebekah Peeples Massengill is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University.


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"For years Wal-Mart and its critics have been locked in a high-profile contest to define the meaning and calculate the morality of America's largest private-sector employer. Rebekah Massengill brings a sophisticated understanding of language, culture, and ideology to her deconstruction of the rhetoric and symbolism deployed by the contestants, in the process demonstrating "For years Wal-Mart and its critics have been locked in a high-profile contest to define the meaning and calculate the morality of America's largest private-sector employer. Rebekah Massengill brings a sophisticated understanding of language, culture, and ideology to her deconstruction of the rhetoric and symbolism deployed by the contestants, in the process demonstrating that concepts like family, community, fairness, and citizenship are both highly malleable and explosively political." -Nelson Lichtenstein , author of The Retail Revolution Wal-Mart is America's largest retailer. The national chain of stores is a powerful stand-in of both the promise and perils of free market capitalism. Yet it is also often the target of public outcry for its labor practices, to say nothing of class-action lawsuits, and a central symbol in America's increasingly polarized political discourse over consumption, capitalism and government regulations. In many ways the battle over Wal-Mart is the battle between "Main Street" and "Wall Street" as the fate of workers under globalization and the ability of the private market to effectively distribute precious goods like health care take center stage. In Wal-Mart Wars, Rebekah Massengill shows that the economic debates are not about dollars and cents, but instead represent a conflict over the deployment of deeper symbolic ideas about freedom, community, family, and citizenship. Wal-Mart Wars argues that the family is not just a culture wars issue to be debated with regard to same-sex marriage or the limits of abortion rights; rather, the family is also an idea that shapes the ways in which both conservative and progressive activists talk about economic issues, and in the process, construct different moral frameworks for evaluating capitalism and its most troubling inequalities. With particular attention to political activism and the role of big business to the overall economy, Massengill shows that the fight over the practices of this multi-billion dollar corporation can provide us with important insight into the dreams and realities of American capitalism. Rebekah Peeples Massengill is a Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University.

33 review for Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Maplequest

    I came across this book while at my local, main street bookstore (which is owned by actual locals and not a corporation) and I'm quite pleased I gave it a read. Whether you think Wal-Mart destroys or bolsters a communities economy (I feel the former), the author did a great job of laying out the economics, both financial and moral, for both sides. Don't let the name fool you...this book is about so much more than Wal-Mart. Reading this will make you realize why its important to care about where I came across this book while at my local, main street bookstore (which is owned by actual locals and not a corporation) and I'm quite pleased I gave it a read. Whether you think Wal-Mart destroys or bolsters a communities economy (I feel the former), the author did a great job of laying out the economics, both financial and moral, for both sides. Don't let the name fool you...this book is about so much more than Wal-Mart. Reading this will make you realize why its important to care about where your dollars go.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tracie Hall

    I purchased this book from the Newport Beach Public Library book sale shop because I'd done a little research recently for students tasked with a writing assignment on the subject of Wal-Mart's practices and, since this book is in our college digital collection, I'd included a section from it with a few articles from other academic publications. A friend had vaguely mentioned a documentary she found enlightening on the subject at the time, but I never got around to looking for it, so, with a sis I purchased this book from the Newport Beach Public Library book sale shop because I'd done a little research recently for students tasked with a writing assignment on the subject of Wal-Mart's practices and, since this book is in our college digital collection, I'd included a section from it with a few articles from other academic publications. A friend had vaguely mentioned a documentary she found enlightening on the subject at the time, but I never got around to looking for it, so, with a sister-in-law who works for Wal-Mart, I was curious about the details when I saw this on the shelf. Rebekah discusses Wal-Mart's practices from about 2000-2006, a couple of the organizations that criticized them, and Wal-Mart's reactions and responses to the criticism. She polarizes and politicizes the arguments, asserting, if I interpreted correctly, that the Wal-Mart executives, labor force and shoppers think in small, personal, microeconomic terms, are commonly evangelical, and conservative; and the groups, organizations, and enlightened citizens against their practices think in big-picture, socially conscious terms, are elite, intelligent and progressive. In a nutshell, if I gleaned correctly, she assesses that while she felt that the union-backed Wal-Mart Watch (WMW) group had the better moral cause, Wal-Mart and it's group, Working Families for Wal-mart (WFWM), had more compelling rhetoric based on family values, which she advises the former to adopt.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Josie

    This book was a bit confounding. The author did her homework—she amassed tons of information about what the friends and foes of Wal-Mart are saying about Wal-Mart and documented it well. However, it is devoid of substantive analysis. This is particularly striking b/c she claims that both sides employ different moral frameworks. So what’s missing? A look behind the rhetoric/discourse employed by both sides to see to examine the substance of Wal-Mart is (or isn’t) doing and how/whether those facts This book was a bit confounding. The author did her homework—she amassed tons of information about what the friends and foes of Wal-Mart are saying about Wal-Mart and documented it well. However, it is devoid of substantive analysis. This is particularly striking b/c she claims that both sides employ different moral frameworks. So what’s missing? A look behind the rhetoric/discourse employed by both sides to see to examine the substance of Wal-Mart is (or isn’t) doing and how/whether those facts align with the moral visions that are supported.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Notatruestory

    This book is an incredibly articulate examination of the rhetoric used by both the political right and left when discussing Wal-Mart in the media. It deftly shows how the words used to describe the behemoth that is Wal-mart cut right to the heart of our moral frameworks, be they left or right leaning. It is an eye-opening read that has made me feel like a more informed citizen of an increasingly polarized world... and more aware of the agenda that is carried deep in the language that we use.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Maryann

    This book eloquently elevates the discussion about consumerism, morality and culture. Thanks to Ms. Massengill for being courageous enough to initiate such a provocative and necessary conversation.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lindsey Lobin

  7. 4 out of 5

    John

  8. 4 out of 5

    Marty Keil

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nora

  10. 5 out of 5

    Valeda

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  12. 5 out of 5

    Donna Brown

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kris Stuart

  14. 5 out of 5

    Martin Nord

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  17. 5 out of 5

    JB Cook Library

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kazi

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ang-ang-angela

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Famous

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ginny

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Jaffe

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy Campbell

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joe Defazio

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dominique Marie

  27. 4 out of 5

    Priscilla

  28. 4 out of 5

    Martin

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Thornton

  31. 5 out of 5

    Dacc Library

  32. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Pierre-Louis

  33. 4 out of 5

    James

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