Author Archives

Lindsey Cameron

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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Research Findings

Playing the game: How ride-hailing drivers make meaning out of gig work

September 29, 2022

My mother was a middle manager at a call center when she lost her job during the Great Recession. For the next eight years, I watched her work one odd job after another to make ends meet, but her employment during that time was never as reliable as it was before the country’s economic crash forced her to change course.

More than a decade later, my mother’s story is no longer unique. In fact, short-term employment, especially in the gig economy is fast becoming the norm. Millions of Americans – both blue and white collar – are making a living through platforms such as TaskRabbit, Uber, Lyft, Instacart, Fiverr, UpWork, GrubHub, and others. According to government data, more than a third of the American workforce is participating in non-standard work arrangements, such as gig jobs, a number that is expected to rise.

This compelling data, combined with my mother’s experiences, inspired me to study the gig economy. Specifically, I wanted to know how independent workers give meaning to their daily tasks and find personal satisfaction in jobs that are highly transactional and lacking in organizational structure. The freedom to work without walls, annoying co-workers, or micromanaging bosses has its highs, but the lows can be hard on the soul.

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