Research Areas: Work and Occupations, Social Inequality, Labor Movements, 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
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.” Forthcoming in Sociological Focus.
Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth. “Teaching on Contract: Job Satisfaction Among Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” Conditional Acceptance at Research in the Sociology of Work.
Manuscripts with Revise and Resubmit
Pech, Corey, Elizabeth Klainot-Hess and Davon Norris. “Part-Time by Gender, Not Choice: The Gender Gap in Involuntary Part-Time Work.” Revise and Resubmit at Sociological Perspectives.
Manuscripts in Progress
Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth. The Temporary University: Contingent Faculty and the Transformation of 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 interviews with one hundred contingent faculty at public research universities, I uncover the hidden inequalities created by this shift, and the efforts of contingent faculty to combat these hidden inequalities through unions and social movements. These positions were historically designed for people who did not rely on the income from this job and viewed teaching as a hobby or side job, and this group still makes up a portion of contingent faculty. Recently, the media has drawn attention to a growing group of contingent faculty who are in these positions involuntarily and are struggling to survive. I draw attention to two additional groups that have often been ignored – those who are able to make ends meet due to being married to a high-earning spouse, but who are in these positions involuntarily and are dissatisfied with them, and those who chose these positions and remain in them despite struggling to make ends meet because they find their jobs so intrinsically rewarding. To capture these four groups and analyze the consequences of the transformation of higher education, I develop a typology of contingent faculty based on two dimensions: class location and job pathway. I argue that the shift towards contingent faculty has two major consequences: 1) the displacement of aspiring scholars who would like a tenure-track position but must accept a contingent one and 2) the exploitation of teachers who are willing to sacrifice quality of life to work in an intrinsically rewarding, teaching-focused job. This shift also creates inequalities both between contingent and tenure-track faculty and among the four different groups of contingent faculty.
In my dissertation I analyze efforts by unions and social movements to improve these positions. I argue that the disparate experiences of these four groups of contingent faculty create barriers to solidarity and collective action, but when these can be overcome, unions and social movements can make important improvements to these jobs. I argue that it is also important for contingent faculty unions and social movements to gain the support of students and tenure-track faculty. 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, has been conditionally accepted at Research in the Sociology of Work. I am currently preparing a second article, titled “Highly Educated and Dissatisfied: The Effects of Education and Comparison group on Contingent Faculty Job Satisfaction,” for submission to Work, Employment and Society. I am also currently writing a book manuscript on my dissertation, titled The Temporary University: Contingent Faculty and the Transformation of Higher Education. This book has garnered interest from several academic presses.
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” is under review. 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,” is forthcoming 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.