Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Angela Stuesse, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Heide Castañeda, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kevin Yelvington, Ph.D.


activism, labor rights, human rights


This politically engaged project locally grounds the efforts of low-wage workers in the United States who are addressing the nationwide epidemic of wage theft by focusing on the particular experience of organized hospitality cleaning workers at a worker center in Nashville, Tennessee. While being both collaborative and reflexive, this activist anthropological research utilizes observant participation, in-depth interviews, and organizational and archival research to explore the issues identified by members and organizers at the worker center, illustrate the alternative theories of change being generated from grassroots labor organizing efforts in light of state mechanisms that do not protect all workers, and to investigate the complex intersections of activism and academia in research settings. This study shows that wage theft is a more nuanced problem than an economic burden alone, that organized low-wage and immigrant workers are changing the landscape of U.S. labor organizing, and that academic-worker justice collaborations hold promising implications for social change.