Cultural Production: I analyzed the labor and payments of fashion models as a case of cultural production based on fieldwork and interviews in the New York and London modeling markets, which have a “winner-take-all” market structure of vastly unequal earnings. As freelance precarious labor, modeling is typical of “bad jobs” in the new economy, despite being its high-status for women.
Valuation: How do valuation processes reproduce social inequalities? For instance in the fashion industry, there is a paradox: fashion modeling is one of the few labor markets in which women earn significantly more than men. I developed a theory of organizational and cultural processes in the wage dynamics of “display work,” published with Cati Connell in Signs. With Heather Mooney (BU PhD candidate), I am currently studying the college social scene in Boston, a case to examine inter-status interactions among students -- who gets in to which party is tied to status and gendered hierarchies. This is a team-based ethnography with undergraduate students funded through UROP.
Elites and Consumption: Tracing the connections between beauty, value, and status led me to the study of elites. My next book, Very Important People, documents how women with valued “bodily capital” generate status, social ties, and economic profits for wealthy men, while women themselves are unable to access such benefits. Based on 18-months of fieldwork within VIP nightclubs in New York, the Hamptons, the French Riviera, and Miami, this project informs broader efforts to understand stratification by studying elites, who now drive the world’s sharp rise in economic inequality.
2020 Very Important People: Status and Beauty in the Global Party Circuit. Princeton University Press. May.
2011 Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model. Berkeley: University of California Press.
2018 Socio-Economic Review Special Issue, “Elites, Economy, and Society.” Co-edited issue with Bruno Cousin, Shamus Khan, and Ashley Mears. Volume 16, Issue 2.
2019 “Des Fêtes très Exclusives. Les Promoteurs de Soirées VIP, des Intermédiaires aux Ambitions Contrariées.” Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales (“Servicing the Rich” Special Issue), 230.
2018 Bruno Cousin, Shamus Khan, and Ashley Mears. “Theoretical and methodological pathways for research on elites.” Socio-Economic Review 16(2): 225-249.
2017 Asaf Darr and Ashley Mears. “Local Knowledge, Global Networks: Scouting for Fashion Models and Football Players.” Poetics 62: 1-14.
2015 “Working for Free in the VIP: Relational Work and the Production of Consent.” American Sociological Review 80(6): 1099–1122.
2015 “Girls as Elite Distinction: The Appropriation of Bodily Capital.” Special Issue on New Forms of Distinction, Poetics 53: 22–37.
2014 “Aesthetic Labor for the Sociologies of Work, Gender, and Beauty.” Sociology Compass 8(12): 1330–1343.
2014 “Seeing Culture through the Eye of the Beholder: Four Methods in Pursuit of Taste.” Special Issue on Measuring Culture, Theory and Society 43(3-4): 291-309.
2013 “Ethnography as Precarious Work.” The Sociological Quarterly 54(1): 20-34.
2012 Joanne Entwistle and Ashley Mears. “Gender on Display: Performance and Performativity in Fashion Modelling.” Cultural Sociology 6(4): 1-16.
2012 Noah McClain and Ashley Mears. “Free to Those Who Can Afford It: The Everyday Affordance of Privilege.” Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research in Culture, the Media, and the Arts 40(2): 133-149.
2010 “Size Zero High-End Ethnic: Cultural Production and the Reproduction of Culture in Fashion Modeling.” Poetics: Journal of Empirical Research in Culture, the Media, and the Arts 38(1): 21-46.
2009 Frèderic C. Godart and Ashley Mears. “How Do Cultural Producers Make Creative Decisions: Lessons from the Catwalk.” Social Forces 88(2): 671-692.
2008 “Discipline of the Catwalk: Gender, Power and Uncertainty in Fashion Modeling.” Ethnography 9(4): 429-456.
2005 Ashley Mears and William Finlay. “Not Just a Paper Doll: How Models Manage Bodily Capital and Why They Perform Emotional Labor.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 34(3): 317-343.
OTHER ACADEMIC ESSAYS
2018 Review of Capital without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent, by Brooke Harrington. Contemporary Sociology 47(1):74-76.
2017 “Puzzling in Sociology: On Doing and Undoing Theoretical Puzzles.” Sociological Theory 35: 138-146.
2013 Review of Dominatrix: Gender, Eroticism, and Control in the Dungeon, by Danielle J. Lindemann, 2012. American Journal of Sociology 119(2): 577-79.