Grad Student Conducts Extensive Study: "Truck Driving in the Age of Flexibilization"by Jana Ritter - Published: 8/13/2013
Benjamin Snyder, a graduate sociology student at the University of Virginia's Graduate School will present his paper, "The Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Flexibilization," at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. Snyder explores how truck drivers, as representatives of the American workforce, are reacting to marketplace demands for speed and flexibility.
Snyder conducted his research in the cab of a truck hauling frozen chicken from Missouri to Virginia. In addition to the three years he spent interviewing long-haul truck drivers and riding in trucks, he was also interviewing bond traders and spending time on the trading floor, and talking with unemployed people who were looking for work following the 2008 financial collapse.
"Capitalist organizations that are trying to make a profit have to be more efficient and more flexible in moving freight," he said. "They need speed and flexibility in their operations to move freight when the markets demand it. Goods have to move at a moment's notice, so that they are either in transport or on store shelves and not sitting in a warehouse somewhere."
Perhaps the most interesting observation is that truck drivers must also meet the market demands and do so by learning about the rhythms of their bodies and how to manipulate them, such as timing their sleep to take advantage of the rising sun. "After two or three hours of driving, they get fatigued, but then the sun comes up and they get a burst of energy," Snyder said.
He said the drivers know how far they can drive when fatigued and will do things to keep themselves going, such as frequently showering at truck stops. Some take legal stimulants such as caffeine pills, "which can work in a pinch," Snyder said. The drivers understand, however, that their bodies will wear down under this regimen.
Diet also poses a big challenge for the drivers, a problem the trucking industry is trying to address. “A lot of the drivers have a taste for fatty food, but also you have to work hard to find healthy alternatives," Snyder said. "The truck-stop chains have a few healthy offerings, but they are the same in each one. Drivers sometimes try to find healthy food outside of the system, or cook more of their own food. Some try to pick up healthy food when they deliver to markets. Some of them take food prepared at home, but a lot of these guys are pressed for time. They drive, and they sleep."
"It is difficult because they want to be safe, and they want to make money," he said. "They need to try to balance these issues. They want to stay on schedule for the shippers and satisfy federal regulations, and they face problems of traffic, weather, and mechanical failures."
His research has given him greater appreciation for what is involved in the shipping mechanisms on which the economy runs, moving goods from one point to another.
"You have to be a shrewd businessman. I left that part of the research thinking what an amazing group of people these drivers are, incredible people."