Elizabeth Klainot-Hess, PhD

I received my PhD from the Ohio State University in May 2020 and I am currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Kenyon College. My research and teaching interests include work, social inequality, labor movements, economic sociology, education, social movements, and qualitative methods. My research explores how the emergence and growth of contingent and precarious work creates and reproduces inequality as well as how workers respond to these new forms of work and the inequality they create. I have extensive teaching experience and have taught and designed courses for nine years.  

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My dissertation research was a qualitive study of contingent faculty at large public research universities based on in-depth interviews with one hundred contingent faculty. I also wrote a book based on this research which I am preparing to send to an academic press. Most of the research on contingent faculty has focused on variation and inequality between contingent and tenure-track faculty, but this obscures important sources of variation and inequality among contingent faculty.  The argument of my book is that inequality among contingent faculty themselves is a key obstacle to collective responses to the rise of the two-tier system in the academy. In my book I argue that variation in job pathway and the role of income in the household intersect to create fault lines that divide contingent faculty, leading to differences in job satisfaction and quality of life, and creating barriers to collective action. This research has important implications for understanding other types of contingent or nonstandard professional workers, and sheds light on the consequences of the transformation of higher education. An article based on this dissertation has been published in Research in the Sociology of Work, another article has been published in Labor Studies Journal, and I wrote a book based on this research which has garnered interest from several academic presses.

I have also conducted research on the labor movement response to anti-collective bargaining legislation, which has been published in Sociological Focus, and I have conducted research with colleagues on the overrepresentation of women in involuntary part-time work, which has been published in Sociological Perspectives.

I am beginning a new qualitative research project studying users of a popular internet forum where people discuss work and capitalism. This is guided by three research questions: 1) Does participating in this forum build class consciousness?, 2) How does participating in the forum affect people’s perspectives of their own jobs?, and 3) Does participating in the forum lead to participating in collective action?

I also plan to start a qualitative study of freelancers in creative fields from working and lower-middle class backgrounds, which will involve at least 100 interviews. This is guided by four research questions: 1) In what ways does technology reduce barriers to entry into self-employment in creative fields? 2) How does a low level of economic capital affect the precarity of freelancers from working and lower-middle class backgrounds? 3) How does a lack of formal educational credentials affect the ability of freelancers without a college degree to compete for and gain work? and 4) How do freelancers from working and lower-middle class backgrounds navigate differences in social and cultural capital between themselves and the people they are selling their labor to? I plan to write a book and several articles based on this research