Research Findings

Entrepreneurialism or exploitation? Home-based workers in India


July 16, 2018

In 2006, Muhammad Yunus and his organization the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering microcredit programs to the poor in Bangladesh. This was the culmination of nearly two decades of the international development field’s confidence in microfinance to bring social and economic development. The rise of the microfinance movement reflects what the former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz calls the social turn in international development, characterized by the inclusion of social dimensions, such as gender and inequality, in development practices.

Critical social science scholars offer different interpretations of this social turn, including the appropriation of gender equality for neoliberal goals, the reliance on private solutions to poverty, and the mischaracterization of precarious and exploitative work as entrepreneurialism.

Home-based workers repurposed as entrepreneurs

Considering the hype around microfinance, entrepreneurialism, and the belief in the empowering potential of work, I was interested in comparing these ideas to the lives of women actually working in the informal economy. I spent a year in Ahmedabad, a large city in northwest India, conducting research with women home-based garment workers. Because of the work setting and an ambiguous employee-employer relationship, home-based workers are often mistakenly refashioned as self-employed micro-entrepreneurs.

Similar to current debates over the gig economy (such as Airbnb, Uber, and TaskRabbit), there are two interpretations of the informal economy: entrepreneurship or exploitation. In my research I found that women home-based workers reflected both sides but with caveats. Their experience with work was due to labor market forces that create low-wage, irregular work, but also to their social positions as poor women belonging to lower-caste or religious minority groups. Because of social and cultural customs, including household and caregiving responsibilities, these women could not work outside. Yet, they had to work because of their household’s economic position. As one participant, Biliksha, admitted, her family allows her to work because “our household needs money, otherwise, I would only do household work.”

Home-based work allowed women to be economically active while not conflicting with their gender roles in the family and community. However, home-based work is very irregular, low paid, and highly exploitative. Home-based work offers an opportunity to work, but the industry takes advantage of women’s limited social and spatial mobility to create a cheap and expendable labor force.

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

How do admen sleep at night? Responding to moral stigma in a creative industry

and
July 11, 2018

Job satisfaction matters. Of course, everyone would like to be happy with their work. But beyond that, scholars have also shown that job satisfaction is crucial for workers’ mental wellbeing and physical health, on the one hand, and important for employee performance and retention, on the other hand.

When we think about job satisfaction, we usually think about things like wages, office culture, or opportunities for self-fulfillment. But job satisfaction has another side to it: does your job make you feel like a good person?

Workers who think their job is meaningful are more likely to have job satisfaction. In particular, workers who think their jobs help others are more likely to report being satisfied with their jobs. In other words, you’re more likely to stay with your job if you think you’re helping others.

In that case, we might expect people who thought they were not helping to leave their jobs, assuming they had the means to do so. After all, people tend to avoid stigmatizing situations when possible—and doing unhelpful or harmful work is usually morally stigmatizing.

Which begs the question: why do admen and adwomen stay in their industry, when it’s generally viewed so negatively?

Continue Reading…

Research Findings

What explains the incidence of high-involvement work processes?

and
July 7, 2018

High-involvement models of working are associated with high levels of worker influence over the work process, such as high levels of control over how to undertake job tasks or involvement in designing work procedures. We have recently published a review of the literature to find out what is known about the conditions that foster the adoption of such high-involvement models. We draw on studies of worker participation in management since the 1950s to explore what explains the dispersion of high-involvement work processes in the private sector.

Concepts and context

The goal of ‘more and better jobs’, central to the European Union’s Lisbon Strategy (devised in 2000), reappeared in Europe 2020, raising the question of how European countries can transform existing jobs and generate more high-quality employment. High-involvement work processes offer one pathway through enhancing the influence that workers have over their work.

Several theoretical traditions recognise the scope for control as central to the quality of work, including the German action theory of work psychology and the demand-control model of work strain developed by Karasek and Theorell. The value of greater involvement in decision-making was also emphasized in the theory of sociotechnical systems, developed in the 1950s at the Tavistock Institute. These early studies had a defining influence on European institutions, particularly in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, where major programmes of work reform have been undertaken for almost half a century.

However, across Europe, the incidence of high-involvement working remains patchy. Eurofound’s analysis of the European Working Conditions Survey 2010 found more than one third of workers (38%) in Europe were in ‘low-involvement work organisations’ (low levels of task discretion and low levels of worker influence over work organization). Current trends provide no reassurance that the proportion experiencing high involvement will grow, nor that the major variations across Europe will be easily reduced (the Nordic group is well ahead of others).

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 8


July 6, 2018

Happy Friday! Here are some of the stories we’ve been reading this week.

Immigration

Trade

Work

Policing in America

On Campus

Research Findings

Donation or bribe? How police departments manage the ambiguities of gifts


July 3, 2018

For a police department, accepting donations from the public has clear advantages but also several downsides.

On the one hand, donations obviously bring in money. What organization wouldn’t like to have some extra money to spend, particularly if they feel cash-strapped? But economic benefit is not the only advantage of donations. For police departments, donations are also a way of getting closer to the community, a priority of policing in recent years. Gift-giving is more than a cash transfer. It can help the public feel part of the policing effort more than the impersonality of tax-payer money.

On the other hand, once a donation is accepted it can sow confusion among givers, receivers, and the public. Gift-giving is an activity plagued with ambiguity, ritual, and unsaid intentions.

When we give gifts, we often try to ensure the receiver knows we don’t want anything back. We want to be generous. But, the truth is that we do want something back. Although the return is not the motivation for the gift, we want the receiver to confirm that our social bond will be honored.

That confirmation comes in the form of a counter-gift or gesture that is not equal to the gift, but that keeps some kind of loose equivalence. In other words, gift-giving demands a dance of sorts to show that we are motivated by generosity and that no one is under any obligation to give or give back, while expecting reciprocity.

Continue Reading…

Commentary

The merit of marshmallows


June 26, 2018

Let them eat marshmallows! It turns out the famous marshmallow test of willpower – the association between how long preschoolers can resist one marshmallow now for the promise of two later and higher test scores and earnings – did not replicate. Once the sample expanded beyond Stanford’s faculty daycare, and controls for parental social class and child characteristics were included, the effect of delayed gratification was much reduced.

But why did people take such psychological ideas so seriously in the first place?

At the outset, it is important to clarify that the recent replication failure does not tell us that willpower does not “matter.” It tells us specifically that willpower or delayed gratification measured in childhood doesn’t matter to academic attainment independently of parental social class and other factors. But it is the underappreciation of these other factors that led to a popular, yet misleading, narrative tying willpower to desert.

To understand how this began, let’s look at how Walter Mischel, the man behind the marshmallow test, got started in 1960s Stanford. Mischel set a model for today’s bestselling celebrity-psychologists, such as Angela Duckworth, by publishing popular books that combined simple summaries of their research with personal memoirs and how-to guides.

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, no. 7


June 22, 2018

Happy Friday, sociologists! Like many of you, we’ve been following the immigration news closely. Here are some of the latest updates and a smattering of other news we’ve managed to catch this week.

Immigration

Immigration and the Media

Scaling Back the Safety Net

Gender

Labor

Research Findings

Hyper-selectivity and the Asian second-generation advantage


June 20, 2018

Asian Americans have increasingly been in the national spotlight. Last month, “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” a documentary by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu, aired nationwide as part of PBS’s American Experiences series. The film focuses on the historical legacy of anti-Asian racism and a unique moment in American history when a law banned the entry into the U.S. of an entire ethnic group for the first time.

Last week, the New York Times highlighted the importance of the Asian American vote in the upcoming midterm election in Orange County where one-fifth of the population is of Asian descent. This Spring, an ongoing lawsuit against Harvard alleges that Harvard admissions files showed a clear pattern of discrimination against Asian applicants, with implications for the future of affirmative action policy.

How are Asian Americans advantaged or disadvantaged in the current national debate on race? In a recent post on this blog, Arthur Sakamoto argued that the obsession over “white privilege” has blinded scholars to the reality of Asian American success. Informed by the majority-minority paradigm of racial hierarchy, academic and public debates continue to treat Asians as a minority, despite their increasing presence in and acceptance by the American mainstream.

In a related post on the org theory blog, Raj Andrew Ghoshal and Yung-Yi Diana Pan challenged the claim of Asian American privilege by highlighting new research documenting mixed success among and persisting social exclusion towards Asians in workplaces and communities across the country.

Continue Reading…

Friday Roundup

Vol. 2, No. 6


June 15, 2018

Happy Friday, sociologists! Here are a few of the articles and essays we’ve been reading this past week.

Immigration

Gender

Indigenous Issues

The Gig Economy

On Campus

Research Findings

Does education create good jobs?


June 13, 2018

In January 2012, President Obama called for states to extend compulsory education in the U.S. to age 18.  More recently, the White House unveiled its America’s College Promise Proposal, which calls for free community college tuition for responsible students. 

Common arguments in support of more education suggest that education spurs innovation and expands skilled and higher paying jobs.  Counterarguments suggest education could reduce skilled jobs by promoting the development of new technology, production practices, and machines that can replace skilled labor.

We know that education has important occupational benefits for individuals, but do these benefits spill over into society as well?  At the turn of the century, I find that they do. Continue Reading…