Member Publication: Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance

Please check out the following recent publication by OOW members Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely: Divested: Inequality in the Age of Finance. 2020. New York: Oxford University Press.

Here is a short description of the book:

Finance is an inescapable part of American life. From how one pursues an education, buys a home, runs a business, or saves for retirement, finance orders the lives of ordinary Americans. And as finance continues to expand, inequality soars.

In Divested, Ken-Hou Lin and Megan Tobias Neely demonstrate why widening inequality cannot be understood without examining the rise of big finance. The growth of the financial sector has dramatically transformed the American economy by redistributing resources from workers and families into the hands of owners, executives, and financial professionals. The average American is now divested from a world driven by the maximization of financial profit.

Lin and Neely provide systematic evidence to document how the ascendance of finance on Wall Street, Main Street, and among households is a fundamental cause of economic inequality. They argue that finance has reshaped the economy in three important ways. First, the financial sector extracts resources from the economy at large without providing economic benefits to those outside the financial services industry. Second, firms in other economic sectors have become increasingly involved in lending and investing, which weakens the demand for labor and the bargaining power of workers. And third, the escalating consumption of financial products by households shifts risks and uncertainties once shouldered by unions, corporations, and governments onto families.

A clear, comprehensive, and convincing account of the forces driving economic inequality in America, Divested warns us that the most damaging consequence of the expanding financial system is not simply recurrent financial crises but a widening social divide between the have and have-nots.

Member Publication

Please check out the following recent publication from OOW members Aliya Hamid Rao and Megan Tobias Neely: “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Passion and Inequality in White-Collar Work.” Sociology Compass. Online First.

Abstract:

Emotion has become an increasingly important aspect of work in the 21st century. In this article, we take stock of the extant literature delineating the role of emotions, especially passion as a cultural schema, in white‐collar workplaces. Scholars have covered extensive ground on emotions at work, but the role of passion remains an underexplored yet significant area. Drawing from recent developments in research on white‐collar work, we argue that the passion schema has become a critical marker in the labor market for sorting individuals into occupations, hiring and promotion within organizations, and assigning value to people’s labor. Emergent research suggests that because the expression and perception of passion remain ambiguously defined in the workplace and varies by context, it is pivotal in reproducing social inequalities. In this review, we focus on how privileging passion in the workplace and interpreting it as a measure of aptitude impacts social inequalities by race, gender, and social class. We close by setting an agenda for further research on this topic.

Member Publication

Please check out the following recent publication from OOW member Elizabeth A. Hoffmann: “Allies Already Poised to Comply: How Social Proximity Affects Lactation at Work Law Compliance.” Law & Society Review 53 (3): 791–822.

Abstract

This study demonstrates how legal compliance may be better achieved when organizations include individuals who will advocate for newly codified rights and related accommodations. To understand compliance with a new law and the rights it confers, this article examines as its case study the Lactation at Work law, which amends the Fair Labor Standards Act to mandate basic provisions for employees to express breast milk at work. In particular, this study interviewed those organizational actors who translate the law into the policies affecting workers’ daily lives: supervising mangers and human resources personnel. Those studied in this article were “Allies Already:” friends or relatives of breastfeeding workers, or ones themselves, who held pro‐breastfeeding values and understood the complexities of combining lactation and employment. They mobilized within their organization to comply with the law swiftly and fully—often even overcomplying. This article demonstrates how heightened compliance, particularly with new laws, may be achieved even without directly affected actors mobilizing their own rights if allies champion needed accommodations.

Member Publication

Please check out the following recent publication from OOW member Aliya Hamid Rao: “From Professionals to Professional Mothers: How College-educated Married Mothers Experience Unemployment in the US.” Work, Employment and Society. Online First.

Abstract

Unemployment influences life experiences and outcomes, but how it does so may be shaped by gender and parenthood. Because research on unemployment focuses on men’s experiences of unemployment, it presents as universal a process that may be gendered. This article asks: how do college-educated, heterosexual, married mothers experience involuntary unemployment? Drawing on in-depth interviews with unemployed mothers in the US, their husbands, and follow-up interviews, this article finds that the experience of job loss is tempered for mothers as they derive a culturally valued identity from motherhood which also anchors their lives. Husbands’ support emphasises that employment is one of several options mothers can pursue. Couples pivot attention to husbands’ careers as they worry about finances, often resulting in marital tensions. Using mothers’ unemployment as a case, this study demonstrates that unemployment has more divergent implications depending on gender and parenthood than prior theories suggest.

Member Publication

Please check out the following recent publication from OOW member Adam Hayes: “The active construction of passive investors: roboadvisors and algorithmic ‘low-finance’”, Socio-Economic Review, online first.

Abstract

How does algorithmic finance operate in society as it crosses the threshold into the hands of lay investors? This article builds on original ethnographic research into a new class of algorithmic trading programs known as ‘roboadvisors’—inexpensive, automated, digital financial platforms that enable ordinary people to invest very small minimum amounts and that rely to a large extent on passive, index strategies that follow the prescripts of Modern Portfolio Theory. The main argument of the article is that roboadvisors, representing an ethos of ‘low-finance’, are actively constructing passive investors by disciplining them through technologies that embody canonical models of financial economics. Roboadvisors and their algorithms reconfigure their users and objectify them through automating investment decisions and enforcing a principle of ‘don’t do’ vis-à-vis the market. Implications that bear on agency, market structure and regulatory regimes are discussed.

Member Publication

Please check out the following recent publication from OOW members Robert Perrucci, Carolyn Cummings Perrucci, and Mangala Subramaniam: “Publication in Four Sociology Journals, 1960-2010: The Role of Discipline Demographics and Journal Mission,” Sociological Focus, Vol. 52, Issue 3 (2019): 171-185.

ABSTRACT:

In this paper, we focus on the stratification system impinging on scholarly publications, but we move beyond viewing gatekeeping as a product of professional idiosyncrasies or preferences for certain methodologies to give greater attention to the institutional forces shaping relations among universities, academic departments, academic journals, and individual scholars. To illustrate the operation of institutional factors, we examine data on the affiliations (elite and non-elite departments) of editors and authors over a 50-year period in four sociology journals, and our findings indicate clear evidence of over-representation by faculty from elite departments of sociology. We interpret these data through the theoretical lens of social closure, which may be shaped by discipline demographics and the “missions” of the academic journals.

Member Publication

Please check out the following recent publication by OOW member Victoria Reyes: Global Borderlands: Fantasy, Violence and Empire in Subic Bay, Philippines. 2019. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

The U.S. military continues to be an overt presence in the Philippines, and a reminder of the country’s colonial past. Using Subic Bay (a former U.S. military base, now a Freeport Zone) as a case study, Victoria Reyes argues that its defining feature is its ability to elicit multiple meanings. For some, it is a symbol of imperialism and inequality, while for others, it projects utopian visions of wealth and status.

Drawing on archival and ethnographic data, Reyes describes the everyday experiences of people living and working in Subic Bay, and makes a case for critically examining similar spaces across the world. These foreign-controlled, semi-autonomous zones of international exchange are what she calls global borderlands. While they can take many forms, ranging from overseas military bases to tourist resorts, they all have key features in common. This new unit of globalization provides a window into broader economic and political relations, the consequences of legal ambiguity, and the continuously reimagined identities of the people living there. Rejecting colonialism as merely a historical backdrop, Reyes demonstrates how it is omnipresent in our modern world.