We are delighted to have Elay Press, author of Dirty Work; Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America to our Distinguished Speakers Series. His book addresses work that society considers essential but morally compromised. Drone pilots who carry out targeted assassinations. Undocumented immigrants who man the “kill floors” of industrial slaughterhouses. Guards who patrol the wards of the United States’ most violent and abusive prisons. In Dirty Work, Eyal Press offers a paradigm-shifting view of the moral landscape of contemporary America through the stories of people who perform society’s most ethically troubling jobs. As Press shows, we are increasingly shielded and distanced from an array of morally questionable activities that other, less privileged people perform in our name.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn unprecedented attention to essential workers, and to the health and safety risks to which workers in prisons and slaughterhouses are exposed. But Dirty Work examines a less familiar set of occupational hazards: psychological and emotional hardships such as stigma, shame, PTSD, and moral injury. These burdens fall disproportionately on low-income workers, undocumented immigrants, women, and people of color.
Illuminating the moving, sometimes harrowing stories of the people doing society’s dirty work, and incisively examining the structures of power and complicity that shape their lives, Press reveals fundamental truths about the moral dimensions of work and the hidden costs of inequality in America.
About the author: Eyal Press is a writer and journalist who contributes to The New Yorker, The New York Times and other publications. Since the spring of 2021, he is also a sociologist with a PhD from New York University. He grew up in Buffalo, which served as the backdrop of his first book, Absolute Convictions (2006). His second book, Beautiful Souls (2012), examined the nature of moral courage through the stories of individuals who risked their careers, and sometimes their lives, to defy unjust orders. A New York Times editors’ choice, the book has been translated into numerous languages and selected as the common read at several universities, including Penn State and his alma mater, Brown University. His most recent book, Dirty Work (2021), examines the morally troubling jobs that society tacitly condones and the hidden class of workers who do them. A recipient of the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, he has received an Andrew Carnegie fellowship, a Cullman Center fellowship at the New York Public Library and a Puffin Foundation fellowship at Type Media Center.