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Aesthetic labour and intersectionality in the retail trade

In the retail trade, many employees are required to fulfill a certain look. It can be beauty norms or expectations of ethnic, class-specific and age-related behaviors. These requirements are included in the work and can be called aesthetic labour. By retaining control over employees' aesthetic appearance employers try to create a match between staff appearance and the identity of the organization.

Retail is a growing industry that serves as an entrance into the labour market. Aesthetic requirements entail a specific kind of discrimination. The requirements, which are often gender specific, are stronger for women, and are different for men and women. Today there is very little research on employee perceptions of aesthetic labour which makes these processes difficult to discuss.

The project looks closer at aesthetic labour in the service industry with a case study from retail. The overall aim of the project is to develop theoretical tools to understand and talk about aesthetic labour. The questions are:

  • What experiences of aesthetic labour do employees in retail trade have?
  • How are the demands of aesthetic labour experienced by the employees?
  • How is the aesthetic labour organised in relation to gender?


This will be explored through in-depth interviews with employees in different sectors in retail, observations and text analysis.

Participating researchers:
Magdalena Petersson McIntyre, Associate Professor of Ethnology

Page Manager: Malin Tengblad|Last update: 2/10/2016
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