Research Findings

The class struggle over democracy

May 31, 2019

Democracy, they say, is in crisis. The Washington Post ran a Super Bowl ad warning us that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Political scientists Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky have published a book titled How Democracies Die. And Larry Diamond, éminence grise of democracy scholarship, has diagnosed a global democratic recession.

It is not my aim to pour cold water on these kinds of concerns. There is much in recent history to fret about. Yet a single-minded focus on contemporary events can mislead. In studying only today’s backsliding, we risk ignoring the forest for a few Trump-shaped trees.

To understand democracy — to defend it and to deepen it — we should examine its long history rather than obsess about recent headwinds. In a recent article published in the American Journal of Sociology, I attempt to do just that. My research suggests that democratic progress over the last 150 years is the fruit of the changing character of class struggle over the state. Democracy has its origins in the capacity of the poor to disrupt the routines of the rich.

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Research Findings

A second look at the process of occupational feminization and devaluation

May 27, 2019

Over the last half century, American women have gradually entered lucrative and prestigious occupations, one obvious sign of a reduction in gender inequality. The feminization of those occupations, however, may in turn reduce their average pay levels. In this research, I examined trends in the effect of occupational feminization on occupational pay over several decades in the U.S. and explored the mechanisms underlying these trends.

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New book

The appeal – and limits – of bringing spirituality to work

May 21, 2019

In many professional workplaces, mindfulness has become a seeming panacea. Its proponents argue that it will not only help workers de-stress and improve their health, but become more self-aware and self-actualized both in and outside of work. The argument goes that, by helping develop happy, healthy, and therefore more productive employees, the large companies, schools, public agencies, and other organizations will benefit.

Mindfulness meditation includes a wide-ranging set of contemplative practices aimed at training oneself to pay “attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally,” as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society. Mindfulness has been developed and differentiated in the course of being marketed by its proponents to a variety of organizations, from Ivy League universities to Fortune 100 businesses.

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Research Findings

Authority and Caring: A Zero-Sum Game for Women Leaders?

May 14, 2019

The last few years have brought renewed attention to the unique challenges facing women leaders. Feminist celebrities like Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, and  Ava DuVernay decry sexist double standards that hold women back professionally, and intense public commentary has focused on the possibility of a likability penalty for women in politics. The conversation touches on an either/or bind described by sociologists of gender: either women can “do gender” by displaying warmth and caring, or they can “do professionalism” by showing strong leadership and authority. But they can’t do both.

But is this tension reflected in the work experiences of all women leaders? In a recent study, we found that overlapping cultural stereotypes of what it means to be “white” and a “woman” give rise to a particular expectation for “feminine behavior” that may not exist for women of color whose race and gender elicit more masculinized stereotypes.

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Research Findings

Gender of the immediate manager and women’s wages

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May 8, 2019

Improving women’s position in society, particularly in the labor market, ranks high on the political agenda in many countries. One policy under debate is implementing gender quotas in top positions or on corporate boards. Also the vice president of the European Commission in 2012 has proposed legislation enforcing such gender quotas in all European countries.

The underlying argument is generally that the gender of the manager, or the gender composition at the managerial level, affects career prospects of female employees. Thus, increased representation of women at higher levels within firms is often assumed to improve wages and career advancement of women.

This can be through preferences of the manager such as homophily – implying a preference to interact with individuals with similar characteristics, i.e., as regards gender. Or through productivity-enhancing effects due to better communication and mentoring. Alternatively an increased female representation contributes by firm structures becoming more family-friendly.

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Research Findings

Why employment isn’t a good indicator of economic well-being

May 5, 2019

As expected, President Trump touted the “hottest” economy in years in his State of the Union address. As evidence for a booming economy, Trump noted that, “Unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded.” And that “All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before.”

Let’s focus on a minority group with historically low rates of employment — people with disabilities — and examine some of these claims. Employment rates for people with disabilities have declined since the late-1980s. An analysis of employment trends over time also shows similar declines even when accounting for differences in age, education, and family background. Despite these overarching trends, the President claimed in his address that “Unemployment for Americans with disabilities is at an all-time low.”

To be sure, many organizations have fact checked Trump’s SOTU speech. True: unemployment among people with disabilities did decrease slightly from 10.5% to 9.2% in 2017 and rates are lower for other minority groups. This isn’t, however, a record low nor did Trump mention that unemployment among people with disabilities is still about twice as high as the rest of the population.  It also masks the fact that while unemployment may have declined, it is still highest among African Americans and Hispanics with disabilities.

The bigger problem isn’t the hyperbolic tone we’ve come to expect in a SOTU address and especially one delivered by Donald J. Trump. It’s trying to convince American voters that the economy is doing well because of increased employment.

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Research Findings

The promise and the reality of women’s work in developing countries

May 1, 2019
A woman working in a rice field near Tananarive. 1/Jan/1981. Tananarive, Madagascar. UN Photo/Lucien Rajaonina.

Over the last fifteen years, gender gaps in employment remained steady in many parts of the world, while the gaps grew wider in others. The chance for women to participate in the labor market is about 27 percent lower than for men, according to a recent report by the International Labor Organization.

Improving women’s employment prospects is a long-standing goal of development agencies worldwide. Scholars, policy makers, and development practitioners alike claim that employment empowers women, reduces poverty, and improves child health, especially in developing countries.

But a recent study of mine suggests that this is not always the case. Employment is not necessarily a tool for women’s empowerment and better health in poor countries.

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Research Findings

Finance, class, and the category of value: The marginalist revolution revisited

April 30, 2019

In contemporary economic textbooks, the value of any good is nothing more than its prevailing market price. This definition seems self-evident, but it stands in sharp contrast to the classical political economy of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who located value in objective factors of production which remain hidden beneath the surface of market prices.

It was only in the late nineteenth century, when the notion of marginal utility was first introduced into economics, that value became tied to the preferences of consumers as reflected in market prices.

While economic categories such as “value”, “market” or “price” are often taken for granted, sociologists have long recognized that they are neither eternal nor natural. As Marx never tired of emphasizing, economic categories are “theoretical expressions” of concrete social and economic conditions, and they “show the historic foundation from which they are abstracted.”

What remains less clear is how these categories ‘show’ their historic foundations. How are changes in these foundations – in terms of the economic structure of society and the specific social location from which they are perceived – registered in the dominant categories of economic thought?

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Research Findings

Mapping the power of fossil capital

April 15, 2019
Image: Garth Lenz

None of the G20 countries are on track to combat climate change under the UN 2015 Paris Agreement, and among them, Canada stands out as the country with the worst carbon emissions per capita. The Corporate Mapping Project has found out why. Canada’s fossil fuel industry is a cohesive corporate community driving a ‘new denialist’ story deep into the federal government and into key institutions such as the University of Calgary. But we can change that story.

The Corporate Mapping Project (CMP), hosted by the University of Victoria since 2015, with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – British Columbia as a key partner, aims at understanding the economic, political and cultural power of Canada’s fossil fuel industry. As a collaboration between researchers and activists, the goal of the project is also to develop strategies for fostering socially just alternatives to fossil fuel.

The economic nucleus of Canada’s fossil fuel industry is the Alberta tar sands, where our findings show that five large producing companies and two major pipeline companies control most of the action. These corporations and the pipelines that flow mostly north to south make up a labour process that is highly capital intensive, and fast becoming more automated through driverless trucks and the like.

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Research Findings

People with disabilities turn to gig work

April 10, 2019

During the recent government shutdown, approximately 800,000 workers went without pay. Some government workers turned to gig work to make ends meet: Twitter is filled with stories of workers who began driving for Uber or Lyft during the shutdown as a stopgap measure.

Government workers are not alone in turning to gig work to make ends meet. The government shutdown is one example of systemic failures that leave many Americans without a safety net. In an ongoing study, I find that people with a disability also turn to gig work to get by. People with disabilities do gig work because they need a flexible job that allows them to stop working when they can no longer work that day, and to take breaks as needed.

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