Service nepotism in cosmopolitan transient social spaces

David Sarpong, Mairi Maclean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines service nepotism, the practice of bestowing gifts or benefits on customers by frontline service staff based on a perceived shared socio-collective identity. Adopting a micro-sociological approach, it explores the practice as played out in multi-cultural transient service encounters. Given the dearth of existing research and low visibility of service nepotism operating ‘under the radar’, the article assumes an exploratory qualitative research approach to capture it through ‘microstoria’: the sharing of stories by marginal actors, as recounted by West African migrants working in the UK. These stories reveal similarity-to-self cueing, non-verbal communication and the availability of discretionary authority as three salient logics in play. In a highly differentiated multi-ethnic society, service nepotism challenges a very specific customer-oriented bureaucratic ethos that demands impartiality. It also provides contexts for relatively powerless employees to rebalance their relationship with their organizations, thereby addressing a more pressing dysfunction within the market and society more generally. <
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)764-781
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number5
Early online date1 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


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