BA Dip.Ed (USyd), BA (Hons) (Sociology) (Kent), PhD (UQ)


I sought to be part of establishing a solid Sociology of Work grounded in empirical studies in Australia. The opportunity presented in 1973 to access well paid highly unionised coal mining workers in a new mining town attached to two open cut mines in Queensland. By the 1970s, it was still the norm to focus exclusively on men. Women were excluded from mine work so I designed a study of work and marriage to include women centrally. The result was the book Open Cut (1981) which was well received interweaving the lives of working class men and women, their subordination, struggles for autonomy at work and in the home. Work was changing rapidly so my next studies focussed on the burgeoning service economy, white collar workers, technicians and flight attendants (Blue White and Pink,1988). Women had been crowded into a small number of feminised occupations. ‘Airhostesses’ had been historically segregated into an all-women’s union. Arguably their greatest achievements were to win through industrial campaigns pay and conditions for service workers and the raising of the retirement age for women from 30 to normal working age, still a conspicuous inequality in other airlines. The women’s leadership approached me to assist them to find out if the membership wanted to pursue equal opportunity policies. A new concept, ‘emotional labour’ emerged from Hochschild’s study of Delta Airlines. New concepts such as emotional labour and sexual harassment gave women workers a voice to talk about job problems. My extensive research suggested that emotional labour was costly more for women than men and especially with severe sexual harassment. But how the airline companies valued flight attendants determines any negative impact. Sexual harassment came from passengers especially businessmen and male sports’ teams but gay men who formed a significant group had to contend with homophobic harassment mainly from the technical crew, pilots. My research highlighted these problems and helped formulate policies. All of my research has engaged with the rights-based tradition in employment and increasingly the right to work without incurring illness and injury, occupational health and safety (OHS) exemplified in my study of the South Australian timber industry pioneering including women as well as men and inclusive models of OHS. 

Aboriginal people have been continuous and often vital contributors to the Australian workforce and economy. However they have been invisible and excluded from the orbit of OHS policies and provisions. I sought with Bill Thorpe and Carolyn Chapman, the Aboriginal project officer to address this and make them part of an Australian Sociology of Work. The ‘emotional labour’ concept was joined with a concept of obligatory community labour which grasps the extra duties involved in Aboriginal identity and practice which are essential parts of the job. Health workers exhibited the highest levels of emotional exhaustion. Their jobs are made more stressful because of racism and low standards of cultural sensitivity among non-Aboriginal health professionals and related workers, and abuse from clients. The findings of the study were presented in brochures and an accessible book, Aboriginal Workers and Managers (2003) providing sociological concepts and substantive detail more relevant to Aboriginal experiences.

Adjunct Professor in Sociology, Flinders University from 2003; Professor in Sociology Flinders University 1999-2003; Associate Professor in Sociology Flinders University 1991-1998; Lecturer/ Senior Lecturer Sociology from 1983-90; Senior Lecturer, Lecturer Griffith University 1979-1983; Tutor in Sociology, University of Queensland 1973-79.

Inaugural winner of the Jean Martin Award for best PhD in Sociology in Australia for 1978-9.

1. Williams, Claire R and Barbara Buttfield (2016) ‘Beyond individualised approaches to Diabetes Type 2, Sociology Compass Vol. 10. No. 6. pp. 491-505.

2. Williams, C. (2003) ‘Aboriginal health workers, emotional labour, obligatory community labour and OHS’ Journal of Occupational Health and Safety Australia and New Zealand Vol. 19. No. 1.

3. Williams, Claire and Bill Thorpe with Carolyn Chapman (2003) Aboriginal Workers and Managers, History, Emotional and Community Labour and Occupational Health and Safety in South Australia, Seaview Press, Adelaide.

4. Williams, Claire (2003) ‘Sky service: The demands of emotional labour in the airline industry’ Gender, Work and Organization Vol. 10. No. 5. pp. 513-550.