Jessica Burch on the Crisis and Opportunity of the 1970s
Jessica Burch, Assistant Professor of Global Commerce and historian of capitalism and US business has published “Crisis or Opportunity? Amway an unfamiliar story of economic growth in the 1970s” in Sebastian Voigt ed., Since the Boom: Continuity and Change in the Western Industrialized World after 1970 (University of Toronto Press, 2021).
The volume of essays is the result of a German Historical Institute-funded conference that brought together scholars from the US, UK, and Europe to examine the phenomenon and consequences of Western deindustrialization.
Burch’s contribution appears in a section of the book on the rise of the service sector. She argues that the narrative of decline that characterizes many analyses of the 1970s is too narrowly focused on male industrial work and workers.
Using the history of Amway and the direct sales sector as a case study, she argues that the so-called decline of some modes of production and employment paralleled growth in others. Paying greater attention to the jobs most often held by women, and placing the growth of direct sales work in the 1970s within a much longer history of contingent work - ranging from agricultural work to skilled factory work to contract-based knowledge work - she ultimately claims that the mid-century period of high industrial productivity, which many have seen as representative of modern US capitalism, is more exceptional than typical.
The jacket blurb reads: “Building on the seminar work of Lutz Raphael and Anselm Doering-Manteuffel, Nach dem Boom, which identified a ‘social transformation of revolutionary quality’ that ushered in ‘digital financial capitalism,’ this volume features a series of essays that reconsider the idea of a structural break in the 1970s. Contributors draw on case studies from France, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, and Germany to examine the validity of the “after the boom” hypothesis.”