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Working the Boardwalk: The Social Life of a Public Marketplace


In this article-based dissertation I present four distinct – but interrelated – articles to expose the social life of a public marketplace. Drawing on over four years of ethnographic data, I present the experience of a group of marginalized entrepreneurs who independently generate income along the Venice Beach Boardwalk. Using an interactionist approach, I reveal the ground level processes through which people turn an otherwise everyday pathway into a place from which to make a living. In the first substantive chapter, I expose the participatory nature of public space regulation, shifting the way we link regulation to democratic participation and how we think about the ‘publicness’ of space. In the second substantive chapter, I locate a process of building, maintaining, and protecting trust in everyday interaction to expose the particular interactional work that trust does to manage workplace needs. In the next chapter, I present three ways of ‘working’ and ‘intoxicating’ – taking a break from work, working to intoxicate, and intoxicating out of work – to demonstrate how these different relationships become interrelated in a social ecology of work on the Boardwalk. Finally, I uncover the way in which workplace interactions are shaped by situated gender dynamics and expose the way ‘intimacy’ unfolds in this male-dominated marketplace. Throughout the dissertation, my analysis focuses on the importance of daily tensions. In a place known for its diversity, I locate commonality. In a place where homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, and mental health problems flourish – I show work is sustained. In a place where people talk of suspicion and individualism – I uncover trust. In a space open to all – I reveal inclusion and exclusion. As a site of ongoing conflict and contestation, I show both fragility and endurance. This dissertation therefore highlights the way people make space their own – as they carve out a living, build a community, and live their lives.

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