In a rapidly changing world, what does work mean to people?

Broadly, my work looks at how people understand their own place in the economy and in society. How do people understand class, work, and inequality? I enter a range of sites to ask this question, focusing on workplaces that epitomize contemporary trends of precarity, insecurity, and flexibility and employing both quantitative and qualitative methods.

 


Narratives of Workplace Insecurity

Labor is increasingly characterized by flexibility, instability, and precarity. How do workers make sense of these changes, and how do they maintain commitments in such conditions? To explore these questions, my dissertation examines the experiences of workers in two industries that epitomize these trends: oil and tech.

Conducting nearly 200 interviews, I heard workers in both these industries develop narratives of insecurity that allow them to see their work as a symbolic response to the perceived root cause of insecurity, generating a sense of commitment to the very jobs that expose them to precarity in the first place.

 

“Nature” as a Criterion of Distinction

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How do people develop criteria of distinction? This project examines how three groups of people in a luxury ski town use competing understandings of “nature” to place themselves in relation to one another. Challenging most models of cultural diffusion, the privileged 'ski bums' and vacationers implicitly recognize the terms of distinction set by the marginalized locals, indicating that group’s potential for cultural innovation. This research is published in Journal of Contemporary Ethnography.

In addition, this project is the basis of a reflection on conducting ethnography among overlapping social groups, available soon as a SAGE Research Methods Case.