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

Over the past thirty years, the economy has changed drastically. Work is more independent, risk is increasingly individualized, and futures are more tenuous. How do people adapt to and understand these changes? Broadly, my research 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 212 interviews, I heard entry-level 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.


symbolic meaning of thrift-store shopping


How are vague and embodied forms of cultural capital defined? This project enters the thrift stores of Portland, Oregon to consider the meanings people attach to their consumption, and how those meanings can act as symbolic capital. Ethnographic observation and interviews with shoppers reveal competing symbolic understandings among two groups of consumers: the "thrift-seekers" and the "creativists." In addition to contributing to knowledge of the rise of "creativity" and "authenticity" in cultural valuation, this project, published in Journal of Consumer Culture, highlights the potential for markets to serve as sites of struggle over the definition of symbolic capital.


“Nature” as a Criterion of Distinction


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.