Coping in Crisis: Restaurant Workers' Attempts at Dignity Maintenance Amid COVID-19 Layoffs

Thu, April 13, 2023 10:00 AM at 203 S. Kedzie Hall

Anna Wilcoxson Dissertation Defense



Chicano/Latino Studies Program Conference room (South Kedzie, Room 200 (Conference room is 203) 368 Farm Lane, East Lansing MI 48824)

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Meeting ID: 936 0591 0708
Passcode: wilcoxson


The COVID-19 pandemic brought taken-for-granted activities to a halt—even those as seemingly routine as work. Suddenly, people were stripped of their identities as workers and were forced into periods of isolation, uncertainty, and increasing precarity. This dissertation explores the various ways that out-of-work restaurant workers navigated the COVID-19 pandemic through a series of coping mechanisms. By conducting open-ended, semi-structured interviews alongside a nation-wide survey, I am able to meaningfully understand the various coping mechanisms utilized and create a theoretical undergirding to understand who participates in these particular coping mechanisms, and under what conditions these coping mechanisms are undertaken.

Specifically, to highlight these possibilities, my research question explores: 1) How are restaurant workers impacted by the mass layoffs caused by COVID-19? And, 2) What, if any, are internalized and externalized strategies for maintaining dignity amidst this crisis—at the individual, relational, and collective levels? Based on my analyses, I identify three primary ways that people coped during their period of joblessness: education, organizing and philanthropy, and projects. I show how each one of these coping mechanisms is linked to an identity as a restaurant worker. Furthermore, I examine if and how each of these coping mechanisms contributes to an individuals’ sense of personal dignity maintenance. This dissertation contributes not only to the discussion on the human desire to find or maintain dignity during periods of upheaval, but also sheds an important light on the issues that restaurant workers continue to face in an increasingly informalized economy.