Monthly Archives

February 2023

Research Findings

Some heroes push shopping carts: how the pandemic changed gig workers

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February 23, 2023

During the crushing first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was hardly a store window or a street corner in America without a homemade sign thanking frontline workers. But these tributes weren’t just for the doctors, nurses, firefighters, and paramedics who risked their very lives to care for patients – occupations we typically think of as noble and sacrificial.

Suddenly, service workers who had long been invisible in the eyes of many consumers were being hailed as heroes for doing everyday tasks at a time when merely stepping outside of the house carried a risk of contracting the virus. Grocery store workers, surrogate shoppers, food deliverers, and other customer service employees who typically earn among the lowest wages found themselves held in the highest regard.

We believe the most interesting qualitative research is out there if you know where to look, and we didn’t have to look far beyond our neighborhoods to see that all the (literal!) signs of gratitude were pointing us in the direction of our next research topic. What happens when jobs are suddenly and unexpectedly moralized? How do workers react to their own jobs when the public narrative shifts in their favor? Do they see themselves as heroes worthy of such admiration, or do they reject the label and go on about their day?

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New book

The consequences of being measured

February 16, 2023

What happens when we systematically measure the quality of knowledge in academic settings? For thousands of scientists across the United Kingdom, the answer is dishearteningly close to their hearts: measured and quantified knowledge becomes more similar and homogeneous, eroding the organizational and epistemic diversity of their fields over time.

This is what I find in my recently published book The Quantified Scholar: How Research Evaluations Transformed the British Social Sciences. Focusing on the evolution of four disciplines (anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology) I find that a specific way of measuring the quality of knowledge—periodic country-wide assessments of Britain’s public universities—has resulted in more homogeneous disciplines, both in terms of their organization and their content.

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New book

How did China’s supplemental education sector grow to be the world’s largest for-profit education industry?

February 9, 2023

Supplemental education, such as test-preparation coaching and after-school tutoring, has become increasingly influential in determining educational outcome and social inequality. To date, most studies on supplemental education have focused on its impact on students and glossed over the supply-side story: how do supplemental education organizations (SEOs) operate and how do they transform in the context of major socioeconomic transitions?

In a recently published book, I examine the expansion and transformation of the world’s largest and most vibrant for-profit education industry—China’s supplemental education industry (the Industry) during the last four decades’ market transition. In the 1980s, all leading Chinese SEOs were nonprivate state-affiliated schools or small mom-and-pop ones stuck in dilapidated classrooms and informal practices.

How and why did they evolve into private and globally financed for-profit corporations, despite systematic restrictions by the Chinese state?

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Research Findings

What is precarious work, and what happened to precarious workers during the COVID-19 pandemic?

February 2, 2023

It is highly likely that your parents, or grandparents, depending on your age, worked full-time for the same employer for many years, even a lifetime. They accumulated job tenure, had regular working schedules, and their employer directed the work they did at the place of business.

This standard employment relationship (SER) model is defined by stability and continuity. Yet, recent decades have witnessed gradual transformations in work arrangements and employment contracts due to economic, technological, and globalization changes.

One of the most notable transformations is the proliferation of precarious work, a departure from the model of stable and secure employment with benefits. Precarious workers lack employment stability, they change jobs, and move in and out of the labor market. When they work, it is likely in part-time and temporary jobs that do not provide social benefits and statutory protections.

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