Alexandra (Ali) Hendley

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Alexandra (Ali) Hendley

University of California, Santa Barbara

Dissertation title: A Taste for Distinction: Gender, Class, and Race in Private and Personal Cheffing

Chair/Committee: Maria Charles (chair), John Mohr, Denise Segura, Kimberly Nettles-Barcelón

Areas of Specialization: gender, work/occupations, qualitative methodology, culture

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Dissertation abstract: My dissertation research explores how private and personal chefs – workers ambiguously positioned between high- and low-status, male- and female-dominated work – negotiate their identity and status. Private and personal chefs in some ways benefit from the admiration and respect now directed at culinary professionals, but their legitimacy is questioned by other chefs. Their work approximates low-status domestic labor long performed by women of color, yet these chefs are mostly white and highly educated, like most of those who hire them. Drawing on semi-structured interviews and survey data, my research examines how these chefs draw symbolic boundaries to resolve ambiguities about who they are and/or want to be as people and as workers. Emotions play an important role in some of this boundary work, as the chefs' capacity for emotional labor allows them to claim superiority to commercial chefs, yet it may pose risks to their standing vis-à-vis clients. I argue that the fields of private and personal cheffing open opportunities to individuals for whom a commercial culinary career would be challenging or unattractive. However, the boundaries the chefs draw have the potential to reproduce inequalities within the culinary profession, as well as within society at large. This research contributes to scholarship on work and inequalities, providing insight on intra-profession status hierarchies and demonstrating how reproductive labor continues to be devalued, even by those engaged in such labor in homes.  It also contributes theoretically to the existing cultural literature on boundary work, arguing that people draw boundaries not just between themselves and others, but also between their own multitude of selves. Distinguishing between a "true" self and a present, but less-than-ideal self, was a major factor in my research participants' decision to pursue private or personal cheffing. 

Brief bio: Alexandra (Ali) Hendley is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology (with a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies) at UC Santa Barbara. She will receive a Certificate in College and University Teaching upon graduation, and to date she has taught two of her own courses – Gender & Food in Society and Ethnographic Research Methods. She looks forward to future opportunities to teach Introduction to Sociology, Qualitative or Quantitative Research Methods, as well as courses on Gender (or Social Inequalities), Work, or Culture. In addition to her work as a researcher and teacher, Ali has held leadership and service positions for her university, department, and professional organizations

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