TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS
Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman
109: Bethany Moreton, 6-28-10
Teaching Position: Assistant Professor of History and Women’s Studies, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Visiting Assistant Professor of Women’s Studies and the History of Christianity Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA, 2010-2011
Area of Research: History of capitalism, the twentieth-century cultural and religious history of the United States, and transnational history
Education: Ph.D. 2006, (M.A., M. Phil.) U.S. History, Yale University
Dissertation: “The Soul of the Service Economy: Wal-Mart and the Making of Christian Free Enterprise, 1929-1994,” under the direction of Glenda E. Gilmore.
Major Publications: Moreton is the author of Book: To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (Harvard University Press, May 2009). Winner, Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians, April, 2010.
Moreton is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others:
“Why Is There So Much Sex in Christian Conservatism and Why Do So Few Historians Care Anything about It?” Journal of Southern History 75th anniversary issue, v. 75, no. 3 (August, 2009); “Make Payroll, Not War: Business Culture as Youth Culture,” in Bruce Schulman and Julian Zelizer, eds., Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008); “The Soul of the Service Economy: Wal-Mart and the Making of Christian Free Enterprise, 1929-1994,” Enterprise & Society 8:4 (December, 2007); “The Soul of Neoliberalism,” Social Text v. 25, no. 3 92 (Fall 2007), pp. 103-123; co-authored with Pamela Voekel: “Vaya con Dios: Religion and the Transnational History of the Americas,” History Compass, Summer 2007; “It Came from Bentonville: The Agrarian Origins of Wal-Mart Culture” in Nelson Lichtenstein, ed., Wal-Mart: The Face of Twenty-First Century Capitalism (New Press, 2005).
Moreton is currently working on the tentively titled manuscript “Spiritual Development: Neoliberalism and Transnational Religion”.
Awards: Moreton is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Emerging Scholar’s Prize Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan, April, 2009;
Junior Faculty Fellowship Willson Center for the Humanities, University of Georgia, for fall semester 2009;
Visiting Scholar Fellowship American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2006-2007;
Charlotte F. Newcombe Fellowship Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 2005-2006;
Dissertation Fellowship for the Study of American Religion Louisville Institute, 2004-2005;
Program on Philanthropy and the Non-Profit Sector Fellowship Social Science Research Council, 2004;
Program on the Corporation as a Social Institution Fellowship Social Science Research Council, 2003;
Myrna F. Bernath Fellowship Award Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, 2003;
Dissertation Research Grant Yale Center for International and Area Studies, 2003;
Coca-Cola World Fund at Yale Summer Travel Grant Yale Center for International and Area Studies, 2003;
Mellon Research Seminar Fellowship in Women’s and Gender History Schlesinger Library, Harvard University, 2002.
My first act of research for To Serve God and Wal-Mart was shoveling fossilized chicken droppings out of a defunct coop on a goat farm in Northwest Arkansas. The farm’s owners, friends of my favorite agrarian Jim Scott, evidently took my willingness to pick up a shovel as a character reference, and lost no time making me feel at home in Wal-Mart’s backyard. Since we have no Freedom of Information Act for the state-supported institutions we somewhat inaccurately call private corporations, the research could only go so far by relying on formal archives. It was only through the generosity of my hosts in the Ozarks-the original Wal-Mart Country–that I was able to learn to explore how “Wal-Martism” might fill the conceptual hole in the middle of “post-Fordism.” If the Detroit auto industry had set the pattern for the first half of the twentieth century-in spatial organization, labor arrangements, finance, family formation, ideology, immigration, art-then surely its successor was a likely site for understanding major developments of the post-war years.
When Wal-Mart beat out Exxon-Mobil to become the world’s largest company in 2002, what we knew that the first service company to make it to the top of the Fortune 400 was what astute business journalists like Bob Ortega had been telling us since the early 1990s: Wal-Mart had remade retail by achieving such market dominance that it could dictate its terms to the suppliers rather than the other way around. At the fringes of this narrative were the voices of historic preservationists and organized labor, finally roused by the Arkansas company’s disruptive penetration of Vermont, Chicago, and Southern California. The reigning questions about the new top multinational were often variations on “Wow–how did Wal-Mart do it?” or “Is Wal-Mart good for America?”
While my 2002 dissertation prospectus referenced this literature, though, it also included chapter proposals that ultimately allowed me to explore a question I found much more interesting, the one that Thomas Frank revived from the original Populist mobilization: “What’s the matter with Kansas?” -understood now as “Why have Americans on the losing end of the deregulated, off-shored service economy enabled it politically for more than a generation?” To Serve God and Wal-Mart is therefore not so much a book about Wal-Mart as an account of the anointing of free enterprise, the unlikely legitimation of neoliberal economics through evangelical religion. It tells this story through the twinned biographies of the world’s largest company and the ideological apparatus it nurtured. It argues that this specific experience of mass service work transformed economic common sense and infused it with evangelical values at precisely the moment that federal redistribution catapulted the Sun Belt to its position of decisive influence within the nation. That moment of waxing power for the old agricultural periphery coincided with American-led economic integration, so that the ethos of Christian free enterprise-the odd pairing of Jerry Falwell and Milton Friedman, so to speak-gave late twentieth-century globalization some of its most distinctive characteristics. Ultimately I join writers like Janet Jakobsen, Ann Pellegrini, Lisa Duggan, Tanya Erzen, and Linda Kintz in arguing that the Left’s frustration with the “culture wars” misreads the necessary connection between conservative sexual mores and the post-1973 economy that Wal-Mart ultimately dominated.
That I got to learn about this complex relationship while living in the Ozarks, knee-deep in chicken droppings, was my good fortune.
By Bethany Moreton
- “For the emerging Wal-Mart constituency, faith in God and faith in the market grew in tandem, aided by a generous government and an organized, corporate-funded grassroots movement for Christian free enterprise. Ultimately, they helped shape American-led globalization itself. The postindustrial society grew from a specific regional history an the heritage of Populism. It was built in the aisles and break rooms of Southern discount stores, in small-group Bible study and vast Sunday-morning worship services. It spread through the marketing classes and mission trips of Christian colleges, through student business clubs and service projects. Although free-market economic theories captured the hearts and minds of elite policymakers in the later twentieth century, the animatig spirit of Christian free enterprise shaped the outcome. The Wal-Mart Moms understood better than their critics: Family values are an indispensable element of the global service economy, not a distraction from it.” — Bethany Moreton in “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009)
About Bethany Moreton
- “Moreton’s work is a model of public scholarship in the humanities, rigorous, sympathetic to individual stories, wonderfully written, combining attention to individual story with command of the complex intersection of corporate culture and religious practice. It provides insight into one of the most prevalent, and inscrutable, features of American society today. — Kathy Woodward, Director of the Simpson Humanities Center at the University of Washington, Emerging Scholar’s Prize Institute for the Humanities, University of Michigan, April, 2009
- “Moreton charts the fortunes of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest corporation, and analyses its collusion with the evangelical Christian movement. Hers is a thought-provoking general account of the effect “a Christian service ethos” has on American attitudes towards the free market.” — New Statesman
- “This is a history in equal parts of Wal-Mart and the world that Wal-Mart has made…Moreton reveals Wal-Mart’s extraordinary capacity to develop cultural solutions for the very crises that its business model produced. Her prose is extraordinarily lucid and often provocative, and presents the subject in a manner that will hold interest for both scholars and general readers…To Serve God and Wal-Mart should become a standard text in business history courses, and deserves to be widely assigned–in whole or in part–in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate courses on the history of the twentieth-century United States…In performing a deliberate inversion of more conventional approaches to business history, To Serve God and Wal-Mart greatly enriches our understanding of both Wal-Mart and the Sun Belt service economy.” — “Angus Burgin, Enterprise and Society”
- “Essential reading for understanding not just Wal-Mart, but also America’s general political and economic trajectory.” — David Moberg, “In These Times”
- “Full of detailed and important information and gives a very good insight as to how the sunbelt states set about their development after the second World War…For those interested in the Southern Christian psyche it’s a valuable reference.” — Noel Smyth, “Irish Times”
- “[A] deeply researched account of the ideological underpinnings of the company’s rise…[It] makes for compelling and provocative reading, complicating any simplistic view about why many Americans are enthusiastic about Wal-Mart, even as it seems to grind down wages, stamp out unions, advance a desolate model of exurban life, and eviscerate the small towns in its path.” — Rob Horning, popmatters.com
- “Much of what we learn from Moreton’s book…raises serious doubts about whether the corporation’s influence has been positive on balance. But in the process of describing the downside of Wal-Mart, [she] offers penetrating insights into why the chain has been so phenomenally successful…Moreton offers a gracefully written and meticulously researched account of why people not only have been willing to work for the company, but often have also developed fierce loyalty to it…Economists have long recognized the attractions of flexible working arrangements to some segments of the labor force. But Moreton also offers more novel observations about the lure of Wal-Mart. She explains, for example, how the company invoked the fundamentalist Christian teachings embraced by many of its employees to fashion a working environment that induced them to work contentedly for low wages and paltry benefits…Moreton argues that Walton and his fellow executives quickly recognized the economic advantage of weaving specific strands of the Ozark region’s fundamentalist belief system into their corporate strategy… Moreton’s book answers important questions about why workers have been willing to accept Wal-Mart’s austere compensation package.” — Robert Frank, “New York Times Book Review”
- “Walton made the cheerful, down-home, everyone-pulling-together family-farm values of his early frontline retail workers a hallmark of his emerging behemoth while earning their loyalty through policies, like flexible scheduling, that respected their “home duties.”…To understand the lingua franca of today’s workplace–with its talk of networking, entrepreneurialism, leadership, community service, and, above all, PR and communications–this book is indispensable reading. After all, we all live in Wal-Mart World now.” — Catherine Tumber, “Boston Phoenix”
- “Bethany Moreton’s pathbreaking study, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise is an invaluable asset for apprehending how we got here. Her new book chronicles Wal-Mart’s role in mainstreaming evangelical and free market values even as it became the world’s largest public corporation and the nation’s biggest private employer. A critical appraisal of how religion, politics and economics were interwoven in post- Vietnam American culture and society, To Serve God and Wal-Mart is also a bracing reminder that we, among the most materialistic people in the world, have turned a blind eye to the impact of material conditions on our actions, attitudes and beliefs.” — Diane Winston, Religion Dispatches
- “[A] probing and nuanced study of the latter-day evangelical romance with free-market capitalism…Wal-Mart’s folksy illusion relied in part on making store workers feel like family; in particular, on making female workers feel valued as wives and mothers. Moreton does an excellent job of digging beneath Wal-Mart’s carefully imagineered vision of the rural good life. She not only recounts labor abuses such as the company’s notorious failure to promote and reward women but also stresses how the company appealed to white Americans’ feelings of entitlement…Its workers and the customers they served–often “friends, neighbors, and loved ones”–were the same: white Ozarkers nostalgic for a wholesome, more homogeneous, and largely imaginary yesteryear, for a past in which the best opportunities were reserved for people like them.” — Maud Newton, “Bookforum”
- “Like all historians who love their craft, Bethany Moreton is a gifted storyteller, and this book offers readers an engaging account of how a discount five-and-dime store conceived in the rural American Ozarks became the template for service work in the global economy…[An] impeccably documented and eloquently argued narrative, which will interest historians, sociologists and general readers…Her most significant contribution is to offer an explanation of the paradox that political pundits have pondered in recent years: why many middle Americans prioritize conservative social issues ahead of government policies that would presumably be in their economic self-interest. Moreton’s careful, sometimes wry historical analysis demonstrates that when “values voters”–with many Wal-Mart workers surely among them–eschew economic benefits such as unionization, they do so out of allegiance to a radically new set of moral market priorities. The subjugation of the self to the global corporation, ironically, embraces a deeper set of ideals about the supremacy of family, the morality of self-reliance and the evangelical justification of free enterprise. To Serve God and Wal-Mart shows just how deeply entrenched these ideals are in the world’s largest retailer, offering an intimate portrait of both the contradictions and conquests of the new service economy.” — Rebekah Peeples Massengill, Times Higher Education
- “Moreton unearths the roots of the seeming anomaly of “corporate populism,” in a timely and penetrating analysis that situates the rise of Wal-Mart in a postwar confluence of forces, from federal redistribution of capital favoring the rural South and West to the “family values” symbolized by Sam Walton’s largely white, rural, female workforce (the basis of a new economic and ideological niche), the New Christian Right’s powerful probusiness and countercultural movement of the 1970s and ’80s and its harnessing of electoral power. Giving Max Weber’s “Protestant ethic” something of a late-20th-century update, Moreton shows how this confluence wedded Christianity to the free market. Moreton’s erudition and clear prose elucidate much in the area of recent labor and political history, while capturing the centrality of movement cultures in the evolving face of American populism.” — Publishers Weekly
- “Fascinating…With verve and clarity, Moreton offers something more distinctive: a compelling explanation of how Wal-Mart captured the hearts and pocketbooks of so many Americans.” — Steven P. Miller, “St. Louis Post-Dispatch”
- “Dr. Moreton make students see strengths within themselves, she inspires and empowers women through knowledge and action. No one else could ever be a more effective teacher than she. She is truly a gift to students and the academy as a whole.”…
“Dr. Moreton has the unique ability to present material in a highly intellectual way that everyone can grasp.”…
“Moreton has the power to comfortably accomodate, yet critically challenge all students. Her lectures are my favorite; they are always well-prepared, brilliantly articulated, intellectually stimulating, and very exciting. She also facilitates powerful discussions among students; she asks the right questions.”…
“I always leave Dr. Moreton’s classes as a better writer than I was before. Her deep discussions into the core of the subject matter encourage and empower students to argue a thoroughly well-written paper. Dr. Moreton offers extensive (positive) criticism and help to improve any student’s writing. Also, she challenges me on a greater intellectual level than any other professor.”…
“Dr. Moreton’s material for the class was the most challenging material I have come across in both of my fields of study. Dr. Moreton forced me to think of things that in the past I ran from and for that I am FOREVER grateful to Dr. Moreton. Dr. Moreton’s intelligence, passion, patience, and high standards for student performance EMBOLDENED my ability to take on intellectual challenges that first seem impossible.”…
“Dr. Moreton is one of the most inspirational instructors that I have had at the University. Her passion for her students and unlimited knowledge provided for an amazing classroom environment.”…
“This class was one of the few at UGA that gave me not only new information or facts, but new concepts.” – — Anonymous Students
Posted on Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 1:34 PM