Research Areas: Work and Occupations, Labor and Labor Movements, Social Inequality, Economic Sociology, Education, and Social Movements.
My research explores how the emergence and growth of contingent and precarious work creates and reproduces class, race, and gender inequality as well as the collective responses to these new forms of work and the inequality they create. I use both qualitative and quantitative methods.
Publications and Works in Progress
2020. Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth. “When Mobilization is Not Enough: Political Mediation, Framing and the Use of Direct Democracy Devices by the Labor Movement in Response to Anti-Union Legislation.” Sociological Focus. 53(2):177-189. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/00380237.2020.1730275
2020. Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth. “Teaching on Contract: Job Satisfaction Among Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” Forthcoming in Research in the Sociology of Work.
2020. Pech, Corey, Elizabeth Klainot-Hess and Davon Norris. “Part-Time by Gender, Not Choice: The Gender Gap in Involuntary Part-Time Work.” Forthcoming in Sociological Perspectives. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0731121420937746
Manuscripts in Progress
Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth. Fracutured Faculty: Contingent Academic Labor and the Transformation of American Higher Education. Book prospectus and sample chapters available upon request.
Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth. “Highly Educated and Dissatisfied: The Effects of Education and Comparison Group on Contingent Faculty Job Satisfaction.”
Dissertation Research: Precarious Work in the Academy
In my dissertation I explore the effects of the unprecedented shift in the composition of faculty away from tenure-track positions and towards contingent faculty positions. Drawing on 100 interviews with contingent faculty at two public research universities, I analyze the fault lines that divide contingent faculty, leading to differences in job satisfaction and quality of life, and presenting barriers to solidarity and collective action. I first identify two important dimensions that lead to variation and divisions among contingent faculty within institutions: the role of the income from the contingent faculty job in the household, and whether the pathway to the contingent position was voluntary or involuntary. These two dimensions intersect to create four very different groups of contingent faculty. The academy has always needed some flexible faculty, and those types of positions were well suited to a particular group of contingent faculty – those who see teaching as a hobby or side job, who have no desire to do research, and who do not rely on the income from this job as their primary source of income. However, the increase in contingent positions means that many of these positions are being filled by people who do not desire this type of position and who do rely on this job as their primary source of income. The contingent faculty who see this as a hobby or side job, who I refer to as Traditional Lecturers, are the only contingent faculty who experience high job satisfaction. For the other three groups, these positions lead to dissatisfaction and often a poor quality of life. One group, the Blocked Scholars, sought a tenure-track position or other permanent, well-paid job, but had to accept a non-tenure-track position after failing to secure a tenure-track position or other permanent professional job. They are unhappy in teaching-focused positions that provide insufficient opportunities or support for research and that they perceive as low-status. The other two groups, Sacrificing Teachers and Suffering Scholars, rely on the income from these jobs and have a difficult time meeting the needs of themselves and their families. Their love of teaching or lack of other options is exploited by universities, who pay them wages that are difficult to live on without significant personal sacrifice. These four groups vary in their quality of life, levels of job satisfaction, and sources of job satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Differences in the role of income from the contingent faculty job in the household and the pathway to the contingent faculty positions become fault lines that divide contingent faculty and create obstacles to solidarity and collective action.
In my book on this topic, I build on this research and add a comparison of contingent faculty at a unionized and non-unionized institution, and explore how the contingent faculty at one university were able to partially overcome the fault lines identified in Part 1 to organize a union and bring important improvements to these job. Half of the contingent faculty interviewed for this book are at a university where contingent faculty are unionized, and half are at a university where contingent faculty are not unionized. Contingent faculty at the unionized institution experience higher job satisfaction and better working conditions. They experience higher perceived job security, and unlike the contingent faculty at the non-unionized university, have grievance procedures, a professional development fund, and clear pathways to advancement to higher-level positions with multi-year contracts and presumption of renewal. They eventually negotiated for salaries that were higher than those at the non-unionized university. This book explores the role of the union in creating these differences in working conditions, and why a non-union labor movement at the nonunionized university was unable to bring about improvements to working conditions.
The first article based on this dissertation research, titled “Teaching on Contract: Job Satisfaction Among Non-Tenure-Track Faculty,” which develops and explores my typology of contingent faculty, is forthcoming in the journal Research in the Sociology of Work. I am also currently writing a book manuscript on my dissertation, titled Fractured Faculty: Contingent Academic Labor and the Transformation of American Higher Education. This book has garnered interest from the University of California Press who have invited me to revise and resubmit my book materials several times.
Other Research: Precarious Work and Gender Inequality
I have also conducted research with two colleagues on how the growth of precarious work contributes to gender inequality. In addition to the emergence and growth of contingent work, there has also been an increase in part-time employment. A lack of full-time positions leads to many people being employed part-time involuntarily. We are interested in how involuntary part-time work contributes to gender inequality. Using data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), we evaluate gender differences in involuntary part-time work and seek to explain why women are more likely to be involuntary part-time workers. Our article based on this research, titled “Part-Time by Gender, not Choice: The Gender Gap in Involuntary Part-Time Work” has been published in Sociological Perspectives. We find that regardless of occupation composition or tasks, women are more likely than men to work involuntary part-time schedules. This research demonstrates one of the ways in which the growth of precarious work creates and reproduces gender inequality.
Other Research: Precarious Work and the Labor Movement
Unions are often seen as essential to creating and maintaining job security. Many see unionizing contingent workers as essential to improving contingent work. In addition, decreases in union membership and power may lead to greater job insecurity for workers, as fewer and fewer employees are covered by union contracts that protect job security. As a result, I am also interested in exploring how unions are responding to increases in job insecurity and contingent work. In 2011, the state governments in Wisconsin and Ohio introduced legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. This presented a major threat to public employee unions, including those who represented contingent workers such as adjunct faculty at public universities. Using a combination of documentary evidence and interviews with leaders of the unions and social movement organizations who opposed these pieces of legislation, I explore the labor movement response to this legislation. An article based on this research, titled “When Mobilization is Not Enough: Political Mediation, Framing, and the Use of Direct Democracy Devices by the Labor Movement in Response to Anti-Union Legislation,” was published in the journal Sociological Focus. In this article I argue that the movement in Ohio was successful because in an unfavorable political context they were able to take advantage of a key opening in the political opportunity structure – the referendum – and were also able to exploit a framing opportunity provided by the scope of the legislation.