Amazon’s Warehouses, Bezos’s Worldview, and Elite Higher Education

A large warehouse filled with hundreds of boxes organized into different shelves and cubicles.

Articles and editorials about Amazon, its warehouses and fulfillment centers, and its working conditions appear in probably hundreds, if not thousands, of newspapers and magazines every month. Local and regional newspapers cover the company, of course, as do general interest magazines, and you wouldn’t be surprised to find that business periodicals have a lot to say. Would you expect to find an essay about the company in a periodical that focuses exclusively on issues of higher education? Well, here’s one: Dartmouth University administrator and sociologist Joshua Kim poses some questions about Amazon in this June 2021 Inside Higher Education essay. (His essay mentions and links to a New York Times article, and we suggest that you take a look at that piece, too.) 

Read it here.


1. Kim draws a comparison between Amazon and Costco; what point is he making with the comparison? Do you think that the comparison between the two companies is effective in supporting Kim’s main argument? Why or why not? 

2. Throughout his essay, Kim addresses his readers as “we.” Who is this “we”? How do you know? (HINT: In what kind of publication does the essay appear?) Would Kim’s argument have been more effective if he had taken a less personal stance? (For example, instead of “We need to ask …” Kim might have written “It should be asked…”) Why or why not? Explain your reasoning. 

3. LET’S TALK. Kim poses two questions about what students might be learning in their classes about “inequality, concentrated wealth, and stratification” or some of the history of the labor movement. How would you respond to those two questions? (If you haven’t taken many courses yet, browse through the course descriptions of classes in the fields you plan to study and/or pose the questions to more advanced students.) Compare your responses with a few classmates and try to determine which fields of study, if any, are addressing the topics that Kim asks about. What conclusions and generalizations are you able to draw?   

4. AND NOW WRITE. In his conclusion, Kim suggests questioning and examining how “success” is defined and measured. He is directing his suggestion to professors and administrators in higher education, but it’s a valid and worthwhile question for students and other individuals, as well. What does economic “success” mean to you? How was your definition formed? What do you remember learning and/or observing that brought you to your current ideas? Does the treatment of workers, co-workers, other people in general figure in anywhere to your concept of success? Why or why not? Do you think that it should? Write an essay that addresses these questions and presents your position.

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