Eli Wilson

Assistant Professor

Photo: Eli Wilson
SSCI 1076

Curriculum vitae


PhD, Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles (2017)

Research Interests

Race and Ethnicity, Inequality, Culture

Work and Occupations, Immigration, Ethnography

Research Statement:

My research brings together the sociology of race and ethnicity, work and organizations, and immigration to examine how inequality is both reproduced and challenged in institutional settings. 
My book manuscript, Serving Across the Divide, takes readers inside upscale Los Angeles restaurants where two markedly different and highly unequal worlds of work exist, side by side. In the front of the house, white, class-privileged men and women enjoy higher earnings and more visible roles interacting with an affluent clientele, whereas in the back of the house, Latino immigrant men endure low pay and physically demanding labor out of the sight of guests.  How do each of these worker groups so predictably arrive at unequal roles within restaurants, and what makes them remain there? The answer to these questions, I argue, lies not just with the actions of management – as is typically argued by labor scholars – but also in symbolic boundaries of exclusion drawn between workers. In detailing how both managerial decisions and coworker dynamics help seal one world of work off from another, this study examines the nature of constraints – and opportunities – that arise from everyday workplace conditions in an increasingly service-based economy.



Front of the House, Back of the House: Race and Inequality in the Lives of Restaurant Workers

Eli Wilson

Two unequal worlds of work exist within the upscale restaurant scene of Los Angeles. White, college-educated servers operate in the front of the house—also known as the public areas of the restaurant—while Latino immigrants toil in the back of the house and out of customer view.
In Front of the House, Back of the House, Eli Revelle Yano Wilson shows us what keeps these workers apart, exploring race, class, and gender inequalities in the food service industry.

Drawing on research at three different high-end restaurants in Los Angeles, Wilson highlights why these inequalities persist in the twenty-first century, pointing to discriminatory hiring and supervisory practices that ultimately grant educated whites access to the most desirable positions. Additionally, he shows us how workers navigate these inequalities under the same roof, making sense of their jobs, their identities, and each other in a world that reinforces their separateness.

Front of the House, Back of the House takes us behind the scenes of the food service industry, providing a window into the unequal lives of white and Latino restaurant workers.

Available for purchase here.

Recent/Select Publications:

Wilson, Eli R. 2019. “Managing Portfolio Lives: Flexibility and Privilege Amongst Upscale Restaurant Workers in Los Angeles,Qualitative Sociology 42: 321–336.

Wilson, Eli. 2019. “Tip Work: Examining the Relational Dynamics of Tipping Beyond the Service Counter,” Symbolic Interaction, 42: 669-690. DOI: 10.1002/SYMB.413.

Wilson, Eli. 2018. “Bridging the Service Divide: Dual Labor Niches and Embedded Opportunities in Restaurant Work,”  RSF: Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences4(1): 115-127.

Wilson, Eli. 2017. “Stuck Behind Kitchen Doors? Assessing the Work Prospects of Second-Generation Latino Workers in a Los Angeles Restaurant,”  Ethnic and Racial Studies 41(2): 210-228. 


Introduction to Sociology
Future of Work & Inequality
Race and Inequality