Disciples and dreamers: job readiness and the making of the US working class

Gretchen Purser, Brian Hennigan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Job readiness programs are a propitious site for investigating the literal making of the US working class. With the imposition of workfarist policies, these programs have become a mainstay of social service provision to, and paternalist management of, the poor. We draw upon ethnographic fieldwork carried out in two different job readiness programs to illustrate variations in the ideological frameworks for this project of working class formation. Our first case, a prominent faith-based program targeted to the homeless, draws upon scripture to produce what we call “disciples” who treat work as a biblical mandate and way of serving the Lord. Our second case, a local nonprofit program serving welfare recipients and other poor job seekers, draws upon motivational discourse and practices to produce “dreamers” who cling to the promise that work delivers both upward mobility and personal fulfillment. Despite their differing languages and logics, both programs aim to accommodate participants to the world of low-wage work, instill within them the moral value of labor, and develop worker subjectivities premised on the obfuscation of class and the optimization of employability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-161
Number of pages13
JournalDialectical Anthropology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018


  • Job readiness
  • Neoliberalism
  • Poverty
  • Welfare reform
  • Working class

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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