Wal-Mart Wars: Moral Populism in the Twenty-First Century

Rebekah Peeples Massengill, Author
Rebekah Peeples Massengill. N.Y.U., $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8147-6334-6
Reviewed on: 01/28/2013
Release date: 03/25/2013
Massengill, a lecturer in the department of sociology at Princeton, uses the debate over Wal-Mart’s policies and economic standing as a way of exploring the moral language used in larger political and economic discussions, such as health care. She focuses on two main voices: Wal-Mart, with its in-house “advocacy group,” Working Families for Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart Watch, which aims to expose the company’s shortcomings. Massengill looks at each group’s press releases, Internet postings, and media coverage, and she argues that Wal-Mart frequently links the ideas of freedom, individualism, and thrift to its policies, whereas Wal-Mart Watch invokes community, benevolence, and fairness in its criticisms of the company. For Wal-Mart, providing its customers—usually described as hardworking families—with low prices and a large selection of items trumps concerns over driving out local businesses and preventing its employees from joining unions. Wal-Mart Watch, on the other hand, views these concerns as part of a larger economic problem, contending that Wal-Mart has a moral obligation to act fairly toward its competitors and employees. Wal-Mart’s arguments present the company as a victim of big government and unions. Despite its academic tone, the book effectively demonstrates the deep intellectual divisions between progressives and conservatives. (Apr.)
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