David Pedulla is currently serving on the OOW Council. David is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Stanford University. His research interests include race and gender stratification, labor markets, and economic and organizational sociology. Specifically, his research agenda examines the consequences of nonstandard, contingent, and precarious employment for workers’ social and economic outcomes as well as the processes leading to race and gender labor market stratification. David’s research has appeared in American Sociological Review, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, and other academic journals. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, among other organizations. He received in Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Policy from Princeton University. Below, David shares his thoughts on exciting areas in the subfield, as well as conference advice just in time for ASA.
Much of your research lies at the intersection of various sociological subfields such as stratification, economic sociology and organizations, occupations and work. In what areas are you most excited by OOW’s intersections with other subfields? With what areas would you like to see the subfield interact more, and why?
There is a lot of exciting working happening at the intersection of various subfields in sociology. Right now, I am particularly interested in scholarship that is thinking in new and creative ways about how organizations, occupations, and work play a role in both exacerbating and mitigating inequality. How might organizational policies and practices reduce gender inequality? Or, how can the structure of work perpetuate racial inequality? These are long-standing sociological questions, but it is exciting to see how scholars are using innovative techniques to gain empirical traction in these areas. For example, recent research by Erin Kelly, Phyllis Moen, and their colleagues uses field-experimental methods within organizations to identify the direct effect of particular organizational interventions on key inequality-generating processes around work-family conflict, with important implications for gender disparities in the workplace. This type of scholarship is exciting from both a methodological as well as a theoretical perspective and holds a lot of promise, I think, for advancing our understanding of the links between organizations, work, and inequality.
Precarious, non-standard and contingent labor is a growing area of interest for many OOW scholars, and it is a topic on which much of your research has focused. What are some of the emerging questions on this topic? What challenges do scholars interested in researching this topic face?
Nonstandard, contingent, and precarious work are important topics of study. Yet, data limitations can make it quite difficult to empirically tackle issues in this area. Many of our standard labor force surveys do not contain fine-grained information about the details of individuals’ employment relationships. Although, this is certainly changing, which is exciting news. And, it can be challenging for scholars to even know the right questions to ask to capture people’s complex employment experiences. Therefore, I think there is a significant amount of work to be done to simply document people’s experiences with nonstandard, contingent, and precarious work in a fine-grained, nuanced way. Then, I think there is set of important questions about how these types of employment experiences can exacerbate and/or counteract inequalities in the labor market along standard axes of inequality, such as race, ethnicity, and gender.
Additionally, we need to keep in mind that these categories of work are highly heterogeneous. Nonstandard and contingent jobs are often equated with “bad” jobs. And, indeed, in many cases they are, offering low wages and limited benefits. But, they are not universally “bad” jobs and there are many nonstandard and contingent positions that are well compensated and offer high levels of flexibility to workers, aspects of jobs that can be highly desirable. I think there is some exciting work to be done on mapping the heterogeneity in these types of positions and developing our understanding of when and under what conditions nonstandard and contingent work serve to exacerbate inequality and when they do not.
In your research, you employ a variety of methods, including experimental methods. What is the value of a mixed-method approach? What methodological innovations most excite you?
There are certainly benefits to mixed methods. They can provide more holistic accounts of a given social phenomenon. One method can fill in the gaps left by another method. I have found it useful in my own research to combine field-experimental approaches with both survey experiments as well as in-depth interviews. And, I think there are significant opportunities to think about how we can combine experimental approaches with qualitative methods, both interview-based and ethnographic, in the future. Of course, it can be quite difficult to conduct mixed methods research, given the resources, time, and skill set required. But, the theoretical payoff for well-executed mixed methods research designs can be powerful.
Labor and inequality are of particular interest to the public – what can OOW members do to increase their influence on policy and public discussion?
This is a great question and one that is challenging to answer. So much of academic life is focused on publishing articles and books for an academic audience that it is easy to lose track of the fact that our research can be of interest to policymakers, labor and business leaders, as well as the general public. One way to engage with the broader public is to work with the media to disseminate your research findings. Many universities have public affairs offices that are great at helping scholars publicize their research. They can also sometimes help with media training and making sure that you’re prepared to speak with journalists about your work. Additionally, depending on your interests, there can be ways to consult with organizations around their policies and practices. Depending on the set up, scholars can gain access to interesting data about organizations and workplaces and have an impact on how an organization functions.
We are excited for your upcoming panels at ASA in August. What advice would you give to OOW members – especially graduate students and early career scholars – about making the most of academic conferences?
Conferences are a great way to learn about new and exciting research that’s going on. Finding sessions that are tackling issues you care about can be a great way to keep up on the forefront of what people are working on. It is also sometimes really useful to check out a session on a topic that is tangential to your own scholarship. I sometimes find those sessions to be the most generative in terms of thinking in new and creative ways about my own research agenda.
And, of course, conferences can be a valuable space to meet new people. Something I started doing in graduate school was trying to meet one new person in my research area at every conference I attended. It could be introducing myself to them after one of their panels. Or, reaching out to them before the conference to set up a time to grab coffee. I have found this to be a great way to meet other scholars. And, limiting it to one person per conference makes it not feel overwhelming.