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Little fascinates New Yorkers more than doormen, who know far more about tenants than tenants know about them. Doormen know what their tenants eat, what kind of movies they watch, whom they spend time with, whether they drink too much, and whether they have kinky sex. But if doormen are unusually familiar with their tenants, they are also socially very distant. In Doormen, Peter Bearman untangles this unusual dynamic to reveal the many ways that tenants and doormen negotiate their complex relationship.

Combining observation, interviews, and survey information, Doormen provides a deep and enduring ethnography of the occupational role of doormen, the dynamics of the residential lobby, and the mundane features of highly consequential social exchanges between doormen and tenants. Here, Bearman explains why doormen find their jobs both boring and stressful, why tenants feel anxious about how much of a Christmas bonus their neighbors give, and how everyday transactions small and large affect tenants’ professional and informal relationships with doormen.

In the daily life of the doorman resides the profound, and this book provides a brilliant account of how tenants and doormen interact within the complex world of the lobby.

Read an excerpt.

296 pages | 1 table | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries

Economics and Business: Business--Industry and Labor

Psychology: General Psychology

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


“With Doormen, Peter Bearman emerges as one the most original and dazzling chroniclers of urban society today. In this exceptionally readable book, he shows that everyday urban settings and workers are as interesting as the housing projects, street-corner men, and crack dealers that are the standard topics of contemporary urban studies.”--Mitchell Duneier, author of Sidewalk and Slim’s Table

Mitchell Duneier | Mitchell Duneier

"Ever wonder what lurks in the hearts and minds of those stoic, unflappable, dapperly uniformed men (yes, they’re nearly always men) who man the doors of your city’s apartment buildings? Provoked by his own awkward interaction with his friend’s doorman, Bearman, a sociologist at Columbia University, embarked on this exhaustive study of New York City doormen and the often complex dynamics between them and their buildings’ tenants. . . . Much of the meat of the book resides in the many short interviews with doormen speaking their (normally unspoken) minds. . . . What they reveal is well worth the price of admission."

Publishers Weekly | Publishers Weekly

"Illuminating and different."

Carlin Romano | Philadelphia Inquirer

"To anyone who has ever wished that doormen would stop calling him ’Sir,’ or worried that a babysitter might be mistaken for a mistress, or wondered whether he should refrain from looking at his nose hairs in the elevator mirror while the doorman presumably watches via security cam, [Doormen] is a marvel. It provides the theoretical underpinnings for a lifetime of awkward awning encounters."

Nick Paumgarten | New Yorker

"We like to think of ourselves as egalitarian sorts, ready to get our hands dirty if need be and certainly never feeling truly ’above’ anyone else. All that ’Brideshead Revisited’ attitude--the snobbery of a thousand British drawing rooms--has nothing to do with us Americans, right? Well, yes and no. We may not have a ’servant’ class in the strict Victorian sense, but a "service" class we have indeed, and it is serving us. How do we square our egalitarian self-conceit —’Call me Bill,’ says Mr. Gates—with a liveried doorman? Not easily. For non-New Yorkers, doormen are the guys who carry the bags, organize the packages and tell you who stopped by to see your 15-year-old while you were out. They also open the door. In Doormen, Peter Bearmen devotes a great deal of attention to this niche in our class system. . . . a fascinating portrait of one of the last redoubts of working-class professionals in America."

Paula Throckmorton Zakaria | Wall Street Journal

"Mr. Bearman, the chair of Columbia University’s sociology department, takes the reader through a doorman’s day dealing with tenants, visitors, co-workers and supers. Fits of pseudo-scientific theory alternate with notes and accounts from the doormen themselves, at which points Doormen reads like a fine pulp thriller. . . .  Doormen is a lively look at the uniformed New Yorkers who know if you ordered-in Chinese food last night."

Hannah Meyers | New York Press

"Inspired by observing the bizarre hierarchical relationship between his fellow Ivy League professors and the doormen of their Manhattan apartment buildings, Peter Bearman, head of the sociology department at Columbia University, set out to conduct a study of these ’quintessentially New York’ characters. His aim? To reveal "processes, dynamics, and models useful for understanding other diverse contexts and problems". He sent his students out to interview doormen all over Manhattan. His findings reveal the insight these gatekeepers gain into the daily lives and intimate truths of their residents - from what takeaway food they prefer to whether they’re cheating on their partners. But while the doormen of these apartment blocks have access to intensely personal information about their residents’ lives, the blocks’ inhabitants tend to know little about the personal lives of their doormen, viewing them as ’socially dead.’ Although intended as academic reading, Doormen offers some surprising humour. One chapter deals with the messy subject of Christmas: residents worry about how much to tip their doormen, while doormen are appalled at receiving their Christmas bonus in the form of cookies."

Claudia Webb | Financial Times

Doormen is rich in sociological insight, written clearly and with touches of humour. . . . Doormen provides a solid contribution to the study of social interaction, exemplifying the way sociology can make the mundane quite interesting. By paying systematic attention to the interactions of doormen and tenants Bearman captures the processes whereby each group negotiates its respective roles and responsibilities. Ultimately he illustrates how social life is complex, sometimes messy, but social actors usually make things work.”

Alexandre Frenette | Canadian Journal of Sociology

"This is a book that can be thoroughly recommended, to necomers to sociology, and to jaded lifers alike. Indeed, even readers unfamiliar with the arcane orthodoxies of sociological codes will enjoy this warm, carefully detailed account of the world of New York’s doormen. . . . Bearman is to be congratulated fopr presenting his sophisticated analysis . . . in such a readable format. It is normal in academic reviews of this kind to highlight the specific readerships that would benefit by reading the book being reviewed. Everyone should read Doormen."

Dick Hobbs | British Journal of Sociology

"You don’t have to be a New Yorker to appreciate Doormen. That’s because its author . . . has a far-reaching goal in view. He wants to combine the richness of on-the-ground fieldwork with the tautness of formal models. . . . In its particular analytic reach as well as its pedagogic creativity, it is a model of its own."

Harvey Molotch | Contemporary Sociology

"Bearman is to bve congratulated on this excellent work. It is one that should be experienced by most sociologists interested in human interaction, as which of us is not?"

Joseph R. Gusfield | American Journal of Sociology

"Bearman has succeeded in continuing the Chicago School of Symbolic Interactionism in New York and it bears rare and valuable fruit. . . . Bearman’s book is grounded in the lived experiences of these ’cultural gatekeepers,’ and he impressively uses theory to understand living actors and to see the general in the particular."

Greg Walker | Anthropology of Work Review

"One could reasonably argue that Stinchcombe’s praise is not high enough, for it only hints at what makes Bearman’s Doormen so valuable--its success at taking incisive analyses of social interaction and using them to shed light on macro-structural patterns. In doing so, Bearman shows how we might use Goffman to get to Stinchcombe. And all this from a book with the humble title Doormen."

Ezra W. Zuckerman | Administrative Science Quarterly

Table of Contents

1. Interpersonal Closeness and Social Distance
2. A Foot in the Door 
3. Serving Time 
4. Crossing the Line 
5.  Status Displays 
6.  The Bonus 
7.  The Union 
8.  Conclusion 
Appendix: Study Design (and Some Notes on Teaching Field-Based Classes) 
Literature Cited 


CUNY: Elliot Liebow Ethnography Prize

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