Books for the News

Doormen in the New York Times

jacket imageLast week, the New York Times reported on the growing anti-doorman trend. While doormen used to be considered one of the benefits of living in a luxury building, their presence is now causing unease in some tenants. There’s the anxiety over how big a Christmas bonus to give the doorman, the obligation to engage in chitchat, and the discomfort in being scrutinized by the doorman’s watchful eye.

No one understands this better than a doorman. In fact, most doormen would apparently rather live without a doorman even if they could afford it, according to Peter Bearman, a Columbia University sociology professor and author of Doormen, a study of the profession. They perceive the insular, elitist boundaries created by their presence as unnatural, Professor Bearman said in an e-mail message, and they are loath to jeopardize their privacy.
"Doormen know how much they know about tenants and would prefer not to have someone know that about them," he said.

Just what sort of stuff do doormen know about? Bearman reveals all in Doormen. 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.
Read an excerpt.