Academic journal article American Studies

RETIREMENT ON THE LINE: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory

Academic journal article American Studies

RETIREMENT ON THE LINE: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory

Article excerpt

RETIREMENT ON THE LINE: Age, Work, and Value in an American Factory. By Caitrin Lynch. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2012.

American labor, industrial and otherwise, is often thought of according to certain demographic paradigms. Caitrin Lynch's Retirement on the Line, though, forces us to rethink those norms and, in the process, the nature of work, aging, and employee-employer relationships.

It is a fascinating work of contemporary demographic study into modern gerontology. Beginning in 2006, Lynch began visiting the Vita Needle Company in Needham, Massachusetts (and later working at the factory starting in 2008). She conducted interviews and ethnographic research, framing her conclusions well within a myriad of sociological and anthropological frameworks.

At first glance, the company is rather typical of a small, family-run business. Since 1932 Vita has manufactured needles, typically hollow needles used for everything from basketballs to surgical procedures. It is hard, tedious, and meaningful work for its approximately forty line workers. What makes Vita Needle so intriguing, however, is its employees. While not exclusively, most of its workers are re- tirement age (or well beyond). There are workers in their 70s, 80s, and even the 99-year-old Rosa.

Broken into two parts, the text hopes, according to Lynch, to "contribute to scholarship that exposes or probes cultural assumptions about the meaning of the life course; how to make late life meaningful; and how to find, create, and maintain value in life" (21). Part I, "Up the Stairs," centers on the value and reward Vita workers seem to glean from their days on the shop floor. …

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