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Research Findings

Hope in Organizations Tackling Grand Challenges

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January 20, 2022

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic – and other large-scale issues facing humanity – organizations all over the globe have been working to tackle challenges that are key for human flourishing, and even survival. For example, non-profit organizations, medical institutions, think tanks, and corporate CSR efforts have aimed to tackle challenges such as climate change, social inequity, and finding the cure for disease or illnesses.

However, as organizations aim to address these important societal issues, they are likely to find that it’s hard to tackle grand challenges. Given the magnitude of the issues they seek to address, and the difficulty in doing so, organizations may never fully realize their goals. In such situations, progress is often slow, and failures and setbacks are almost inevitable.

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Research Findings

Business or personal? Gendered professional pathways after job loss


December 16, 2021

John is a white, college-educated professional who lost his job. When I interviewed John, he chalked up his job loss as being a business decision, “A work superior explained to me that the business outlook was not looking good for the upcoming months. And consequently, it was a business decision, and not related to my work performance.” John added, “it was all based on dollars.” 

As I explain in a new article published in Gender & Society, for John and for dozens of other unemployed men that I interviewed, the process of losing a job was a fact of the contemporary U.S. economy. For some it also appeared to reinforce their professional value.

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Research Findings

Opaque algorithms are creating an invisible cage for platform workers


December 9, 2021

We live in a world run by algorithms. Nowhere is this more apparent than with platform companies, such as Facebook, Uber, Google, Amazon, and Twitter. Platforms claim that their algorithms collect and use our data to optimize our experience with breathtaking speed and efficiency. 

Recent reports from scholars, journalists, and policy makers, however, have revealed that platforms’ algorithms exacerbate bias and discrimination in ways that are difficult to audit. 

In my recent study of workers on a labor platform, I found a broader concern about the way platforms use algorithms to control participants. Platforms’ algorithms create an invisible cage for platform users, because workers have no way of reliably accessing how their data is being processed or used to control their success on the platform.

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Research Findings

College and earnings are just part of the story: The contributions of marriage and family wealth to college-educated white women’s class location

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December 2, 2021

Most popular discourse on “returns to college” tends to assume—implicitly or explicitly—that adult class location is largely a result of individual earnings that flow from investments in education.

Recently, we published a qualitative longitudinal study of social mobility among a cohort of college-educated white women in the American Journal of Sociology. We followed 45 women who started college on the same residence hall at a flagship public university for 12 years, with a final wave of data collection at age 30.

We show that social class location over time was “sticky,” in that both upward and downward mobility were limited. The heavy hand of social class in shaping both marital patterns and the transfer of wealth accounts for the persistence of class position across generations.

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Research Findings

The politics of public employment in South Africa

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November 25, 2021

Over the past few decades, public employment programmes (PEPs) have played an increasingly significant role in the systems of social assistance of many low and middle-income countries. With the economies of many countries consistently failing to create enough jobs, or enough good quality jobs, to provide for all citizens, many governments have taken up the task of creating jobs directly through PEPs. 

Proponents of PEPs see them as addressing not only the economic, but also the social consequences of widespread unemployment and underemployment, in a way that grants and other forms of social assistance do not. A “job”, in many countries, is seen as a key component of full citizenship. It is thought to promote stability by acting as a “tangible and direct response on the part of the state to the challenge of unemployment, which may enhance citizen perceptions of state legitimacy and capacity”.

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Research Findings

When implementing new practices, engage employees in a process of co-creation


November 18, 2021

Organizations are often a mess. Managers implement all sorts of organizational controls (for example, processes, practices, rules and incentives) to coax employees to do their work in particular ways. Employees often defy managers, performing their work the way they want.

The outcome? Employees feel frustrated that managers are constantly bugging them to perform their work in particular ways that they feel aren’t actually effective. And managers are frustrated that all the work they do to define standardized practices and processes to help their employees is meaningless because the employees don’t actually do what they are told.

A key question for scholars and practitioners alike is how to address this enduring tug of war.

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Research Findings

Are union supporters blacklisted from hiring?

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November 4, 2021

Strikes at Kaiser Permanente, John Deere, and Kellogg’s have brought renewed attention to workers’ clout when they organize unions. Collective bargaining agreements can convert wage gains from a temporarily tight labor market into durable gains for workers. As a result, U.S. employers often pull out all the stops to defeat new union organizing drives. Many employers bet that it’s better to break the law and keep workers from getting a union than to be stuck with collective bargaining for years to come.

Historically, one powerful way that employers have kept unions out is by avoiding hiring union supporters in the first place. If an employer can systematically weed out applications from “bad apples” and pro-union malcontents, then the risk of a successful future organizing drive is mitigated. For example, a case study of hiring in a 1990s foreign auto plant found that managers avoided workers with prior auto experience, because that meant prior employment at the unionized Big Three American automakers. No auto experience, no union problem.

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Research Findings

“Having it all?”: How multi-level marketing organizations exploit cultural pressures on mothers


October 28, 2021

A seemingly perennial debate in the United States is how women can reconcile competing work and family demands. Can mothers really “have it all” given the lack of institutional support and increasing pressure to engage in child-centric lifestyles? Many women pedaling pricey skin care regimes on social media claim they can. They also try to draw other women into their multilevel direct selling business with the promise that they can as well.

Multilevel direct selling organizations—classic examples of which include Amway Corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Avon—have  thrived among women in the past because they provide a flexible, individualized solution to the time-bind plaguing mothers.

And yet, this industry’s continued success among women raises concerns given evidence that very few women achieve financial success and given lawsuits alleging that multilevel direct selling organizations are pyramid schemes.

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Research Findings

Meatpacking work: Creating structural precarity and sacrifice zones in COVID-19

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October 21, 2021

In the early weeks of the pandemic, it became clear that meatpacking workers would bear a heavy burden, along with other frontline workers. In the meatpacking and food processing plant sector, nearly 92,000 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 466 workers have died from COVID-19, as of September 2021. Available data show that workers of color account for 80% of confirmed cases in an industry in which people of color comprise 80% of the workforce.

In a recent article in Sociological Perspectives, we drew on case studies of meatpacking facilities in three Midwestern states to analyze how industry consolidation and the hiring of marginalized workers affected worker safety and food system stability during the pandemic. We find that the meatpacking industry’s hyper-concentration and exploitative labor strategies created precarious structural conditions which COVID-19 deepened, producing two inter-connected processes:

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Research Findings

The Dispossession-Versus-Exploitation Dilemma for Informal Worker


October 14, 2021
informal worker

Defying stereotypes, millions of precarious informal workers have mobilized for labor rights over the past 40 years.  Yet, as my research on Bogotá’s recicladores (informal recyclers) movement demonstrates, organized informal workers may confront structural dilemmas as they seek to improve their working lives. As informal workers gain a measure of power to reshape the structure and conditions of their work, but continue to face constraints due to their subordinated positions in the broader political economy, tensions may emerge between the imperatives of combatting exploitation and dispossession.

Until recently, most scholars in the Marxist tradition viewed neither exploitation nor dispossession as significant threats to informal workers. Rather, such workers were dismissed as marginal outcasts, whose labor and assets were superfluous to the needs of capital. Indeed, Karl Marx categorized many workers who would come to be known as “informal” such as rag pickers, organ grinders, knife grinders, tinkers, and porters as part of the “lumpenproletariat,” an underclass of vagabonds and criminals.

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