Dobbin, Frank. Inventing Equal Opportunity.

Author:Purk, Janice Kay
Position:Book review

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...

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