Dobbin, Frank. Inventing Equal Opportunity.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Purk, Janice Kay
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Inventing Equal Opportunity (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Dobbin, Frank
Accession Number: 263035409
Full Text: Dobbin, Frank. Inventing Equal Opportunity. Princeton, N J: Princeton University Press, 2009. x + 310 pages. Cloth $35.00.

Inventing Equal Opportunity follows three other Dobbin books that address economic issues and society. This particular volume explores the origin and development of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity legislation and the implementation of these laws. In doing so, Dobbin, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, addresses the function that employers, especially human resource departments, had in bringing about change in society that legislation could not successfully achieve.

Equal opportunity in the workplace is thought to be based in the civil rights and feminist movements and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Dobbin explores the history of ever-changing social welfare laws and programs. His examination reveals the failure of laws and judicial systems to bring about change in the status of those in minority positions. The limitation of the laws alone is addressed. So why was there a dramatic change? Dobbin investigates the social movement of the 1960s and beyond by exploring programs devised by corporate personnel. The first changes were brought about by military contractors who feared that the Kennedy administration would cancel their contracts if they did not address "affirmative action" to end discrimination. Dobbin demonstrates how corporate personnel experts, not Congress or the courts, are the ones who determined what equal opportunity meant in practice and have continued to do so over the last forty years. He then examines how corporate personnel formalized their hiring and promotion practices to bring about changes in the composition of those in all levels of employment. This transformation of the employee base continued to advance dynamic change through the addition of diversity, especially women.

Corporate personnel management continued to work toward the ideals of affirmative action through their own definitions. These efforts were encouraged by Congress. With the threat of the end of affirmative action during the Reagan administration, employers continued to move to support their efforts to create change through diversity-management programs. Also, the growing presence of women in the human resources profession continues to advance issues such as sexual harassment. The "best practice" model of the employers that was supported by the courts has created the more diverse work force of today.

Dobbin's writing differs from other literature in its exploration of the social change that has occurred related to employment inequality. He brings together the human resource employee, the employer, and laws to examine the change that has brought the United States to its current work force dynamics. Other authors before Dobbin, such as Phillip Moss and Chris Tilly's Stories Employers Tell (2001), explore the employer stories. Sonia Ospina's Illusions of Opportunity (1996) examines the failure to reach equality in the workplace. More current authors have focused on gender or race alone in the study of inequality and many focus on the failure to reach the equal level and the need for continued work. Dobbin's work is current in its investigation of the continuing changing status of those who face unequal treatment in the workplace and those who are at the core of the change along with the continued need to address this social issue.

This book is a necessary read for those who have a strong interest in social movements, organizational change, inequality, sociology of work, and social welfare law. The influence of corporate responsibility activities helped to reformulate this reviewer's view of corporate America. This book read quickly and every chapter addresses the power of the corporate world to help bring about change toward more equal opportunity for all.

Janice Kay Purk, PhD

Associate Professor of Sociology

Mansfield University

Mansfield, Pennsylvania
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.