Becoming an Expert Cannabis Connoisseur: Toward a Theory of Moralizing Labor

Cadigan, Michele. 2018. "Becoming an Expert Cannabis Connoisseur: Toward a Theory of Moralizing Labor." M.A. Thesis. Department of Sociology, University of Washington.
Sarah Quinn (Chair), Alexes Harris.

Economic sociologists have shown that legitimacy is an important part of market success (Fourcade and Healy 2007; Meyer and Rowan 1977) and that workers play a central role in establishing a contested trade as legitimate (Anteby 2010; Quinn 2008; Turco 2012). However, researchers have yet to adequately theorize how the process of working within contested or newly moralized markets matters for employee’s sense of self. This is a problem because we know that a person’s job has profound ramifications for their sense of worth (Lamont 2000). This paper addresses this gap by investigating the experiences of workers in a newly formed market for recreational cannabis. Drawing from a year of ethnographic work in three Seattle cannabis shops, and thirty interviews with workers, this study reveals that workers participating in constructing a moral market can gain large returns to a sense of themselves as moral and worthy individuals. However, these positive emotional returns were not evenly distributed. In the case of recreational cannabis, men were better able to position themselves as experts with unique scientific knowledge and insight into how cannabis interacted with the body; women were typically met with suspicion by customers and sometimes from employers and coworkers. This indicates that working in a moralized market matters for workers, but in ways that are moderated by social status.

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