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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Social and Cultural Construction of the Work Life - Private Life Boundary in Three Countries: A Comparative Study of the Evening Hours in the Lives of Norwegian, French, and American Elite Professionals


This paper analyzes results from a study of the practices and orientations associated with the 5-9 PM hours. Drawing its data from a set of in-depth interviews carried out with comparable groups of elite business professionals in Paris, Oslo, and San Francisco, the study reveals the different ways in which this period is handled by the three groups of respondents. In each of the three countries, this slice of time is appropriated differently. In the San Francisco case, these hours can be used either for working life or for private life, depending on the life circumstances of the individual and his or her occupational and organizational affiliation. In Paris and Oslo, however, supra-organizational and supra-occupational temporal conventions assert themselves, contributing to a different kind of evening habitus. While the Parisian respondents are likely to approach these hours as a special kind of facetime reserved for the professional elite, the Oslo respondents treat this period as private time inaccessible to their employer. In the Parisian case, these hours are appropriated as a resource for the affirmation of an elite status group identity, that of the cadre. In the Oslo case, however, the professionals leave the office early so as to show their attentiveness to private life and family obligations. In this way, they demonstrate their characteristically Scandinavian appreciation of private life and their membership in a national-societal community defined in part by a specific mode of balancing working life against private life. Theorizing these findings in relation to various kinds of social temporality, the paper argues that these patterns of variation reflect differences in the stratification cultures of the three countries.

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