Notes from the fringe of the modern economy


Just a Temp

Kevin D. Henson

paper EAN: 978-1-56639-386-7 (ISBN: 1-56639-386-8)
$26.95, Jan 96, Available
cloth EAN: 978-1-56639-385-0 (ISBN: 1-56639-385-X)
$79.50, Jan 96, Out of Stock Unavailable
224 pp 5.5x8.25

"Henson presents a sobering picture of a fast-growing industry that is worthwhile reading for the parties involved, especially, perhaps, for the staffs of the client companies who create the daily working conditions in which the temporary workers operate."
Monthly Labor Review

"So this is where the brain starts to shut down and that which we treasure most, our personal identities, begins to slip away....I suppose I should be thankful; it's a paycheck." With this disturbing sentiment, Kevin Henson begins a voyage into the world of "the temp." For several years while a graduate student, Henson logged in thousands of hours as a temporary worker in offices throughout Chicago's Loop. Those experiences, and numerous interviews with other temps and temporary counselors, create a vivid and often disheartening picture of working 9 to 5 behind the receptionist's desk, telephone console, or data-entry terminal.

In their own voices, the temps in this book lament the frequently demeaning and mundane nature of many assignments:

Where the temporary service industry is quick to extol the virtues of temp work—mainly its flexibility—Henson and his cast of temps reveal the tacit pressure to persevere through an unpleasant assignment, to accept every assignment offered, and to readjust personal lives to do so. Outsiders to the established office culture and hierarchy, most temps are asked to do low-skill work and leave more detailed or complicated tasks for the return of the permanent employee.

Whether temp life is a preferred choice or grudgingly accepted as the last option when "real" or permanent work is unavailable, all temps must confront issues of gender, identity, and self-esteem. Henson examines these issues, documenting the concerns and interpretations of temp workers about their own work lives.


Excerpt available at


"Henson presents a descriptive study of 'temp' work that highlights the dehumanizing aspects of both clerical work and contingent work. This book adds to the substantial and growing literature on office work with the important focus on employment that is assigned on a temporary basis."
Gender and Society

"Given the objective of chronicling the machinations surrounding temporary work, Just a Temp is a constructive contribution to the sociology of work literature."
Social Forces


1. Introduction
2. Getting into It
3. Getting Work
4. Doing the Work
5. Playing the Part
6. Just a Temp


About the Author(s)

Kevin D. Henson is a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

Subject Categories

Labor Studies and Work

In the series

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg.

No longer active.

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg, includes books on women and issues of work, family, social movements, politics, feminism, and empowerment. It emphasizes women's roles in society and the social construction of gender and also explores current policy issues like comparable worth, international development, job training, and parental leave.


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