“With Doormen, Peter Bearman emerges as one the most original and dazzling chroniclers of urban society today. In this exceptionally readable book, he shows that everyday urban settings and workers are as interesting as the housing projects, street-corner men, and crack dealers that are the standard topics of contemporary urban studies.”--Mitchell Duneier, author of Sidewalk and Slim’s Table
(Mitchell Duneier Mitchell Duneier
“Doorman is a brilliant book and a wonderful read by a gifted writer. Peter Bearman is more systematic and deeper in his connecting a defined body of fieldwork data and the ideas used to interpret it than Erving Goffman, his only real competitor for depth of theory about social interaction.”
(Arthur L. Stinchcombe Arthur L. Stinchcombe
"Ever wonder what lurks in the hearts and minds of those stoic, unflappable, dapperly uniformed men (yes, they're nearly always men) who man the doors of your city's apartment buildings? Provoked by his own awkward interaction with his friend's doorman, Bearman, a sociologist at Columbia University, embarked on this exhaustive study of New York City doormen and the often complex dynamics between them and their buildings' tenants. . . . Much of the meat of the book resides in the many short interviews with doormen speaking their (normally unspoken) minds. . . . What they reveal is well worth the price of admission."
(Publishers Weekly Publishers Weekly
"Illuminating and different."
(Carlin Romano Philadelphia Inquirer
"To anyone who has ever wished that doormen would stop calling him 'Sir,' or worried that a babysitter might be mistaken for a mistress, or wondered whether he should refrain from looking at his nose hairs in the elevator mirror while the doorman presumably watches via security cam, [Doormen] is a marvel. It provides the theoretical underpinnings for a lifetime of awkward awning encounters."
(Nick Paumgarten New Yorker
"We like to think of ourselves as egalitarian sorts, ready to get our hands dirty if need be and certainly never feeling truly 'above' anyone else. All that 'Brideshead Revisited' attitude--the snobbery of a thousand British drawing rooms--has nothing to do with us Americans, right? Well, yes and no. We may not have a 'servant' class in the strict Victorian sense, but a "service" class we have indeed, and it is serving us. How do we square our egalitarian self-conceit —'Call me Bill,' says Mr. Gates—with a liveried doorman? Not easily. For non-New Yorkers, doormen are the guys who carry the bags, organize the packages and tell you who stopped by to see your 15-year-old while you were out. They also open the door. In Doormen, Peter Bearmen devotes a great deal of attention to this niche in our class system. . . . a fascinating portrait of one of the last redoubts of working-class professionals in America."
(Paula Throckmorton Zakaria Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Bearman, the chair of Columbia University's sociology department, takes the reader through a doorman's day dealing with tenants, visitors, co-workers and supers. Fits of pseudo-scientific theory alternate with notes and accounts from the doormen themselves, at which points Doormen reads like a fine pulp thriller. . . . Doormen is a lively look at the uniformed New Yorkers who know if you ordered-in Chinese food last night."
(Hannah Meyers New York Press
"Inspired by observing the bizarre hierarchical relationship between his fellow Ivy League professors and the doormen of their Manhattan apartment buildings, Peter Bearman, head of the sociology department at Columbia University, set out to conduct a study of these 'quintessentially New York' characters. His aim? To reveal "processes, dynamics, and models useful for understanding other diverse contexts and problems". He sent his students out to interview doormen all over Manhattan. His findings reveal the insight these gatekeepers gain into the daily lives and intimate truths of their residents - from what takeaway food they prefer to whether they're cheating on their partners. But while the doormen of these apartment blocks have access to intensely personal information about their residents' lives, the blocks' inhabitants tend to know little about the personal lives of their doormen, viewing them as 'socially dead.' Although intended as academic reading, Doormen offers some surprising humour. One chapter deals with the messy subject of Christmas: residents worry about how much to tip their doormen, while doormen are appalled at receiving their Christmas bonus in the form of cookies."
(Claudia Webb Financial Times
Here is the cure for any envy of privileged Manhattanites brought on by viewing their apartments in shelter magazines. These people may occupy huge slices of glass apparently suspended halfway between the twinkling of stars and the twinkling of street lights, and sparsely dotted with black leather, burnished steel, giant flowers and more glass. Or they may occupy horizontal versions of Versailles with wood paneling, ormolu mirrors, marble busts and tapestry-covered furniture. But beyond the financial cost, they and their not-quite-so-grand neighbors pay an emotional price for this every year. They have to figure out what to tip the doorman at Christmas.
The agony of this decision and the perceived consequences of getting it wrong occupy a key chapter in "Doormen" - and this is not an etiquette book. It is a sociological treatise, complete with footnotes. Far from dispelling the tip trauma, the author, Peter Bearman, ratchets it up by killing the notion that asking the neighbors what they give or organizing a pooled tip fund will solve the problem. The neighbors are lying, he assures us, and they are sure to sabotage group efforts by giving extra on the sly. That is how important it is considered to be the tenant at the high end, but not the top, of the tipping scale.
Furthermore, the suspense of worrying whether one has succeeded or failed will be drawn out until February. To obfuscate the relationship between the expectation of tips and the improved service that begins in November - thus setting off the fretting season - the doormen routinely delay any punishments they mete out. Whew.
Bearman, who is chairman of the sociology department and director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University, was somewhat traumatized by his first encounter with a doorman. He writes that when fresh up from North Carolina, he made a fool of himself by pushing past a Columbia professor's doorman, whom he mistook for an intruder, then describing the bewildered guardian to his host as dangerous. Bearman has recovered to the extent of now having his own doormen, whom he prudently did not interview for this book.
Still, those of us in the etiquette business can attest that he is not exaggerating this peculiarly New York anxiety. Every autumn, national television shows and magazines appeal to us for a definitive tip figure (there isn't one), oblivious to the fact that the question is of no interest to the vast majority of their viewers and readers. Elsewhere, apartment dwellers just tip their receptionists, residential managers, concierges and security guards according to local practice and get on with life. Those employees do not depend on significant largesse to plump up their basic incomes. Residential (as opposed to hotel) doormen, who do, are almost exclusively a Manhattan phenomenon. A New York Times reader recently wrote the Metropolitan Diary that she recognized "a real N.Y.C. kid" by the way the child sang "Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, Doorman vous? Doorman vous?"
And their tenants tend to love them. Many speak of doormen as being one of the family, rather in the manner, Bearman points out, that they speak of their pets. There are more doormen than taxi drivers in Manhattan, Bearman discloses, and these relatively well-paying jobs are not easy to come by - positions are held for decades and openings are saved for relatives or friends. Except for an occasional young recruit with delusions of using famous tenants to assist his show business aspirations, doormen are cherished.
Here is, beyond the Christmas tip, another economic peculiarity of the trade: when a strike of the local Service Employees International Union looms, doormen spring into action, teaching their tenants to scab. These eager recruits, signing up to sort the mail, put out the trash and receive the packages, keep assuring the doormen that they are on their side and hope they get raises. They send care packages for the doormen's children. The doormen declare that they hate striking, and hope the tenants will get along in their absence. The immediate bond of everyday life triumphs over the more distant one that doormen feel for their union or that tenants feel about being assessed for increased pay.
Exploring these relationships was an interesting choice. A major consideration was that in a field where it is considered "more interesting to study heroin addicts, gangsters, petty crooks, denizens of the subways or prostitutes," doormen were easily available and safe subjects for students in Bearman's class on Evaluation of Evidence to approach.
Surely we hear enough about derelicts from confessional television, magazines and books. The never-simple workings of other people's daily lives are more of a mystery. It cannot be said that doormen's days are eventful, and as an academic - although readable - book, this tells more about the job than one might wish to know. There is not likely to be a movie or a popular clamor for a sequel on supers. But even non-New Yorkers may find it interesting to peek into this odd line of work, and tenants who see their doormen several times a day, year after year, will find information that may surprise them.
Bearman notes that a good doorman remembers who wants guests announced and who doesn't, who wants dry cleaning sent up and who wants it stored, and who wants videos delivered to the door and who wants them left at the desk (in order to avoid tipping). What tenants forget is that they didn't move in with clear preferences about such inconsequential matters. A good doorman has to train his tenants to have preferences before he can practice the flattery of meeting them. A doorman has plenty of other duties, including help in scheduling repairs. "The combination of watching tenants 'live it up socially' and 'have no time' for household repairs serves as a crisp - if exaggerated - reminder of the differences in lifestyle and trajectory that they have with their tenants," Bearman writes.
Tenant confusion about what the job entails is a source of frustration to the doormen. They spend most of their time just standing at the door, seeming to do nothing. To their minds, they are protecting the building from uncleanliness and crime - and the city agrees, because it puts extra police officers on duty when doormen go on strike. Doormen often chat up tenants, some of whom hang out in the lobby for the company, but they do not flirt. Inside the building it would endanger their jobs, and outside, it doesn't work. "You know," one doorman complains, "you can be a good-looking man, but if you are wearing this uniform, all the good-looking women look right through you." The appearance of leisure irritates tenants who come looking for doormen during one of the rush periods when mail, deliveries and trash collection all need to be attended to at once; tenants assume their doormen are goofing off from a job that asks only that they goof off within sight.
Tenants may also be surprised and relieved to hear that the doormen do not particularly envy them their expensive apartments. Doormen do take pride in their particular buildings, and they may aspire to such a way of life for their children. It just doesn't happen to be to their taste. They live in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island or northern New Jersey, many of them in houses they own, and in spite of the long commutes, they confide that they prefer the atmosphere back at home.
(Judith Martin New York Times Book Review
“Doormen is rich in sociological insight, written clearly and with touches of humour. . . . Doormen provides a solid contribution to the study of social interaction, exemplifying the way sociology can make the mundane quite interesting. By paying systematic attention to the interactions of doormen and tenants Bearman captures the processes whereby each group negotiates its respective roles and responsibilities. Ultimately he illustrates how social life is complex, sometimes messy, but social actors usually make things work.”
(Alexandre Frenette Canadian Journal of Sociology
"This is a book that can be thoroughly recommended, to necomers to sociology, and to jaded lifers alike. Indeed, even readers unfamiliar with the arcane orthodoxies of sociological codes will enjoy this warm, carefully detailed account of the world of New York's doormen. . . . Bearman is to be congratulated fopr presenting his sophisticated analysis . . . in such a readable format. It is normal in academic reviews of this kind to highlight the specific readerships that would benefit by reading the book being reviewed. Everyone should read Doormen."
(Dick Hobbs British Journal of Sociology
"You don't have to be a New Yorker to appreciate Doormen. That's because its author . . . has a far-reaching goal in view. He wants to combine the richness of on-the-ground fieldwork with the tautness of formal models. . . . In its particular analytic reach as well as its pedagogic creativity, it is a model of its own."
(Harvey Molotch Contemporary Sociology
"Bearman is to bve congratulated on this excellent work. It is one that should be experienced by most sociologists interested in human interaction, as which of us is not?"
(Joseph R. Gusfield American Journal of Sociology
"Bearman has succeeded in continuing the Chicago School of Symbolic Interactionism in New York and it bears rare and valuable fruit. . . . Bearman's book is grounded in the lived experiences of these 'cultural gatekeepers,' and he impressively uses theory to understand living actors and to see the general in the particular."
(Greg Walker Anthropology of Work Review
"One could reasonably argue that Stinchcombe's praise is not high enough, for it only hints at what makes Bearman's Doormen so valuable--its success at taking incisive analyses of social interaction and using them to shed light on macro-structural patterns. In doing so, Bearman shows how we might use Goffman to get to Stinchcombe. And all this from a book with the humble title Doormen."
(Ezra W. Zuckerman Administrative Science Quarterly