Austin: Nine to Five
Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in an American City
edited by Javier Auyero
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015
271 pp. $75.00 cloth, $24.95 paper
Gloria P. Martinez-Ramos
Invisible in Austin: Life and Labor in An American City by Javier Auyero is a culmination of his graduate students’ critical ethnography of working class people of Austin. The purpose of this book is to reveal the faces and voices of the city’s backbone and connect their experiences to the social and political structure of Austin. Instead of lecturing in his graduate courses, Dr. Auyero used a critical pedagogical approach so his students could gain an understanding about social inequality. This approach is special because it encourages students to use a critical ethnographic fieldwork that involves the “ethos” or the identity of the researcher, a critical reflection of the sense of place, a self-awareness to constantly negotiate interactions, and shifting relationships while conducting interviews and observations with subjects.
The first two chapters describe the changing geographical landscape, the history of slavery and segregation, and the social policies that shaped inequality in social relations in Austin. The following chapters, which make up the bulk of the book, encompasses different life histories. These stories are voices of everyday people: a construction worker, a small business caterer, a restaurant waitress or cook, a copy machine technician, a stripper, a cab driver, a hotel connoisseur, a musician, a housekeeper, a community activist, and a college student. They all share their hopes and dreams, and strong determination to make Austin their home despite suffering and setbacks. Each person’s story is about working towards a better future for their families and their communities. Every chapter carefully illustrates how each person is socially embedded in Austin’s social relations and economy.
This book illuminates the excitement, commitment, and inspiration of hardworking people wanting to part of something bigger, something better, and something different in Austin. After reading this book, the reader is left with the blow of the power of the human spirit to speak out to be seen and heard. Invisible in Austin provides a fresh and nuanced picture of working people in Austin, but the book could have benefitted from a chapter on methodology. Overall, this book makes a difference in making each person’s story not just visible but political, and the reader is left with an awareness and appreciation of hardworking people in the making of our society.
Gloria P. Martinez-Ramos has a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. She teaches at Texas State University.