My book The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigrant (Lamont 2000) draws on 150 interviews conducted with people who are very much unlike myself. All (or a large fraction) of my respondents were (1) male (I am female); (2) working-class people (I am a professional); (3) people of color (I am white); (4) from developing nations (I am a North American); (5) Muslims (I am Christian); (6) members of former colonial empires (I am French Canadian); (7) older (I was in my thirties when I conducted the interviews). The book analyzed how black and white working-class men living in the New York suburbs, and white and North African men living in the Paris suburbs, define 'us' and 'them.' To get at this question, I asked them to describe in concrete and abstract terms whom they feel similar to and different from, inferior and superior to, close to and distant from, at work, in their neighborhood, and in their communities. I found that perceived moral comparisons largely drove their responses, and that they mobilized moral criteria of evaluation to draw boundaries against various categories of people (for instance, against immigrants and members of other classes and racial groups).
The book revealed that the various populations I studied perceived different groups as most 'other:' Euro-American workers drew the strongest boundaries toward blacks and the poor, but they were relatively accepting of immigrants who were perceived as pursuing the American dream. Although they envied the money and resources of the middle and upper-middle class, they were on average quite critical of their values, and particularly of their perceived weak interpersonal morality. The African-American workers I talked to shared these orientations, although they were less critical of the poor. In France, in contrast, the poor and blacks were considered 'part of us' by French workers, in the name of the republican and socialist ideals, whereas immigrants, subsumed under 'North African immigrants,' were often presumed to be fundamentally different and immoral. French workers also drew stronger boundaries between themselves and members of the middle and upper-middle class, associating them with exploitation and domination. For their part, the North African immigrants also used morality as a key principle for making distinctions, but they emphasized