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Service nepotism in cosmopolitan transient social spaces

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Mairi Maclean



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


We examine service nepotism, the practice of bestowing gifts or benefits on customers by frontline service staff based on a perceived shared socio-collective identity. Adopting a micro-sociological approach, we explorethe practice as played out in multi-cultural transient service encounters. Given the dearth of existing research and low visibility of service nepotism operating ‘under the radar’, we assume an exploratory qualitative research approach to capture it through ‘microstoria’: the sharing of stories by marginal actors, as recounted by West African migrants working in the UK. These stories reveal similarity-to-self cueing, non-verbal communication, and the availability of discretionary authority as three salient logics in play. In a highly differentiated multi-ethnic society, service nepotism challenges a very specific customer-oriented bureaucratic ethos that demands impartiality. It also provides contexts for relatively powerless employees to rebalance their relationship with their organizations, thereby addressing a more pressing dysfunction within the market and society more generally.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Sarpong D, Maclean M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Work, Employment and Society

Year: 2017

Volume: 31

Issue: 5

Pages: 764-781

Print publication date: 01/10/2017

Online publication date: 01/05/2016

Acceptance date: 04/02/2016

Date deposited: 05/02/2016

ISSN (print): 0950-0170

ISSN (electronic): 1469-8722

Publisher: Sage


DOI: 10.1177/0950017016636997


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