Katherine Hill (PhD Candidate, University of Texas at Austin)
Dissertation Title: “Flexibility or Insecurity: Work and Health in the Gig Economy”
Katherine Hill is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research agenda examines the intersection of stratification and inequality, work and organizations, and culture. Her research uses mixed methods to examine the material and cultural conditions of work that contribute to inequality. Katherine has published sole-authored research using ethnography and interviews to examine inequality in immigrant-owned restaurants and finds that labor segmentation results in varied degrees of wage inequality, surveillance, and exposure to hazardous working conditions.
Katherine’s dissertation examines the on-demand work in the gig economy such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and Instacart and focuses on the following questions: 1) Which gig workers benefit from the gig economy and how? 2) How do workers make sense of their entrance into and work in the gig economy? and 3) How does dependence on earnings from gig work shape psychological distress? Katherine uses 48 in-depth interviews with gig workers and analysis of original data collected through a nation-wide survey fielded through social media advertisements.
Overall, Katherine argues that despite widespread evidence of exploitative working conditions and low wages, Americans turn to gig work as a safety net when traditional forms of work fail. For example, the gig economy provides work to those who need flexible or ad hoc work such as people with disabilities or school teachers without summer employment. The inherent economic insecurity in gig work leads to varied understandings of gig work. Katherine finds that downwardly mobile workers rely on a framework of self-reliance to distance themselves from the low status associated with gig work. Furthermore, White gig workers are most likely to experience psychological distress due to dependence on gig work. This research sheds light on the conditions that lead workers to enter into and continue to do work that ultimately exploits them.
Hazel Hollingdale (PhD candidate, University of British Columbia)
Dissertation title: “Testing the Lehman Sisters Hypothesis: Diversity and Risk in the Financial Sector”
Hazel Hollingdale is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of British Columbia and a Yale International Fox Fellow. Her dissertation uses a mixed-methods approach to assess whether increased diversity within finance firms affects financial risk outcomes in ways that could lead to more stable economic markets. She uses 10 years of race and sex composition data from the population of securities firms in the United States matched to data on financial regulation violations to assess the relationship between diversity and financial violations. Hazel also draws on data from over 60 interviews with professionals and senior managers who work in the finance sector in New York and Boston to better understand gender, organization culture, and risk. Her findings suggest that increased racial and gender diversity in securities firms is associated with a decrease in regulatory violations; however differential effects by occupation suggest that the diversity story is a more complicated one. Whereas increased diversity in the professional ranks is associated with fewer negative risk outcomes, increased diversity in management is associated with more negative risk outcomes. She argues that professionals experience a higher degree of strategic and operational autonomy, which insulates them from dominant cultural pressures around risk taking, and that diverse teams in these settings engage in collective information processing which leads to better outcomes as well. Hazel’s dissertation deepens research on gender, diversity, and organizations by showing how diversity can contribute to risk assessments and outcomes in the finance sector.
Elizabeth Klainot-Hess (PhD Candidate, Ohio State University)
Dissertation Title: “The Costs of Contingency: Low-Wage Faculty and the Transformation of Higher Education”
My research explores how the emergence and growth of contingent and precarious work creates and reproduces class, race, and gender inequality as well as the collective responses to these new forms of work and the inequality they create. In my dissertation I explore the effects of the unprecedented shift in the composition of faculty away from tenure-track positions and towards contingent faculty positions. Drawing on interviews with 100 contingent faculty, I uncover the hidden inequalities created by this shift, and the efforts of contingent faculty to combat these hidden inequalities through unions and social movements. These positions were historically designed for people who did not rely on the income from this job and viewed teaching as a hobby or side job, and the media has recently drawn attention to a growing group of contingent faculty who are in these positions involuntarily and are struggling to survive. I draw attention to two additional groups that have often been ignored, 1) those who are able to make ends meet due to being married to a high-earning spouse, but who are in these positions involuntarily and are dissatisfied with them, and 2) those who choose these positions and remain in them despite struggling to make ends meet because they find their jobs intrinsically rewarding. In order to improve these positions these disparate groups who often have difficulty identifying their common interests must join together, and I find that when they do, they can make important steps towards reducing inequality. An article based on my dissertation currently has an R&R, and I am writing a book on it. I have also conducted research on the labor movement response to anti-collective bargaining legislation, which is forthcoming in Sociological Focus, and I have conducted research with colleagues on the overrepresentation of women in involuntary part-time work.
Matthew S. Rowe (Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Colorado, Boulder)
As a cultural sociologist who studies work and occupations, my research agenda is dedicated to explaining how people navigate amid uncertainty and construct careers that are both meaningful and sustaining. I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where my research examines how design professionals bring social justice advocacy into their work. The comparative study asks why one field, architecture, provides greater opportunities for socially-engaged practice than another, civil engineering. My colleagues and I have several articles under review that develop conceptual and historic frameworks for this research.
I graduated with a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2018. My dissertation looks at early careers and training in creative fields, drawing on more than 100 interviews with students, faculty, and graduates of one U.S. art school. In the dissertation and resulting research articles, I find: (a) creative workers use different forms of boundary work to manage the tension between artistry and commerce in their work; (b) early-career workers orient themselves to disorderly job changes by monitoring their skills and affective styles, while seeking a match with desirable jobs and projects; and (c) distinct pedagogic cultures in two art school departments develop different levels of career competency in students. My work has been published in Poetics, Sociological Perspectives, and Culture, Health & Sexuality.
I am passionate about teaching and have developed courses at U.C. Berkeley and C.U. Boulder on sexuality, culture, and the arts and media. My training also prepares me to teach courses on work and occupations, economic sociology, and medical sociology, as well as social theory and qualitative research methods. I build on students’ diverse strengths in every course I teach, and I have actively sought out opportunities to mentor students at both Berkeley and Boulder.
Michael A. Schultz (PhD Candidate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Dissertation Title: “Moving Up from the Bottom: Low-Wage Work, Poverty and Mobility in the Affluent Democracies”
As an undergraduate, I read Arlie Hochschild’s case study of flight attendants. Emotional labor was one of those concepts that reached out and grabbed me through the page. Later, when I decided to leave program management to pursue research on work and inequality, I returned to sociology in part because of my sense that sociology has rich theoretical soil. I’d say I was remembering my experience reading Hochschild. My research agenda is to study how the structure of the labor market (occupations, industries, and firms) and labor market institutions (including households, education systems, and welfare states) create inequality. My current research is often in dialogue with theories outside of the discipline, notions of skill in economics or the impact of welfare regimes in comparative political economy. The core concepts I use in my research, I found in the sociological tradition: the life course, social closure, and the dynamism of social life. Dynamism is at the center of my research because I study the movement of workers through the labor market between occupations, firms, and wage levels. I leverage historical and cross-national comparisons to analyze how theories hold up in changing world. In a forthcoming article in RSF, I find mobility out of low-wage work declined in the late 1990s, likely due to declining job quality. My dissertation tests theories of labor market dualism and convergence by analyzing the effect of country-level institutions on mobility out of low-wage work and poverty. Other ongoing research includes studies of how the gendered movement of childless women and mothers through the labor market creates inequality, the occupational wage returns to vocational training, and the transition from school-to-stable employment for U.S. young adults. When I teach Hochschild’s case study, many students report in their end-of-term reflection that their experience mirrored mine.
Nathan Seltzer (PhD Candidate, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Dissertation Title: “The Socio-Demographic Implications of Deindustrialization in the U.S.”
My dissertation investigates the social and demographic consequences of deindustrialization. The U.S. labor market has undergone an industrial restructuring over the past half century that has fundamentally reshaped the occupational profile of the American middle class. I draw on theories of economic change, including labor market polarization and precarious work, to examine how this economic restructuring of labor markets has altered population processes, reduced upward mobility, and created new fronts of inequality. My research relies on many forms of data, including administrative and vital statistics records, geospatial data, survey data, and simulations. My work has been published in Demography and Population & Environment and is supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Social Security Administration, and the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Tina Wu (Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, NYU Stern School of Business)
Tina Wu is an organizational ethnographer whose research focuses on service work and care work, especially in healthcare, to study broader managerial and organizational dynamics in work settings. She investigates these within the context of social forces, technological change, and industry conditions.
Tina’s dissertation was an ethnography of a leading for-profit home health care company in the US, including interviews with company directors, managers and staff, supplemented with analysis of reports from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and statistical analysis of survey data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Home health care for the elderly or disabled, a growing part of healthcare services, accounts for the fastest growing low-wage jobs in the US and disproportionately employs women, immigrants, and people of color. One paper from this project examines how employers encourage workers’ commitment despite low wages, high turnover, and labor shortages by focusing on managerial relationships, an aspect of company culture. Another paper from this project shows how technology and electronic health records (EHR) devices moderate relationships between managers and staff, with implications for our understanding of technological transformation of work. A third paper shows how workers’ feelings of being respected and appreciated by their supervisor predict lower intent to quit.
Tina has published peer-previewed research on work and identity among domestic workers in a gig economy, mobility and personal identity among professionals, and occupational meaning-making among administrative law judges in public benefits hearings. Her future research project, shortlisted for a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will examine how federal and state-level policies affect the process of new technology development in healthcare services.
Tina received her PhD in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. She is currently a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow in the Management and Organizations Department at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Photo Credit: Marcus T. Wright