New York is the city that never sleeps. But this renowned insomnia would not be possible without the more than 200,000 men and women who work the nightshift – the fry cooks and coffee jockeys, train conductors and cab hacks, cops, docs, and fishmongers selling cod by the crate. Inverting the natural rhythm of life, they keep the city running as it slows but never stops.

In our book, NIGHTSHIFT NYC, we tell the stories of New York City nightshift workers. This ethnography of the night investigates familiar sites, such as diners, delis and taxis, as well as some unexpected corners of the night, such as a walking tour of homelessness in Manhattan and a fishing boat out of Brooklyn. We show how the nightshift is more than simply out of phase, it is another social space altogether, highly structured, inherently subversive, and shot through with inequalities of power. NIGHTSHIFT NYC presents the narratives of those who sleep too little and work too much, revealing the soul of a city hidden in the graveyard shift of 24-hour commerce when the sun goes down and the lights come up.

But there is more to the story than found its way into the pages of the book. Here you'll find more stories of the night in New York City and around the country. And we hope you will add your own stories and comments in the months to come. Stay tuned and check back often...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Last week, the New York Times ran this very positive piece on NIGHTSHIFT NYC. It's from Sewell Chan at the City Room Blog. Here's a bit of what he had to say:
The graveyard shift. The lobster shift. Burning the midnight oil. In the city that never sleeps, ways to describe the 24-hour life of New York City abound. But probably no book has ever examined the nature of nighttime work in the city — and of the often forgotten, faceless people who do it — in as great depth and descriptive power as “Nightshift NYC,” a scholarly but readable book recently published by the University of California Press.

The book, based on a year of ethnographic and journalistic examination of the lives of more than 100 nighttime workers at dozens of sites across the city, is based in social science research but opens like a novel:

After the tour buses disgorge their tourists into the sleek hotels of midtown Manhattan, and after the day-dwellers lock themselves in against an accumulated fear of the night, the city slowly slouches into its own skin, revealing a vulnerability and an occasional mean streak to those who brave its darker side. This is the “other” New York, the city as bleary-eyed insomniac that replaces the manicured tourism of daylight.

The writers are a couple: Russell Leigh Sharman, an associate professor of anthropology at Brooklyn College, and Cheryl Harris Sharman, a writer and journalist. The book is illustrated with a series of haunting black-and-white images by the photographer Corey Hayes, whose work evokes the melancholic mood of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.”

Embarking on what they call an “ethnography of the night,” the Sharmans devote their study to those “souls who sleep too little and work too much.”

They describe the night shift of the book’s title as “a social space that is highly structured and inherently subversive, as transnational as it is transgressive, and shot through with inequalities of power.” Yet they take pains to avoid describing the workers of the night as merely oppressed or exploited, instead sketching a remarkably diverse panorama of characters with different backgrounds, beliefs and aspirations.
To read the entire, rather LONG, piece - click here. And don't be shy, comment on the City Room Blog!

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