My Research

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


2022. Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth. “The Benefits and Limitations of Contingent Faculty Unionization: A Comparison of a Union and Non-Union Institution.” Online first in Labor Studies Journal.

2020. Klainot-Hess, Elizabeth.  “Teaching on Contract: Job Satisfaction Among Non-Tenure-Track Faculty.” Gorman, E.H. and Valas, S.P. (Ed.) Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 34), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 59-82.

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.

2020. Pech, Corey, Elizabeth Klainot-Hess and Davon Norris.  “Part-Time by Gender, Not Choice: The Gender Gap in Involuntary Part-Time Work.”  Online first in Sociological Perspectives.

Book in Progress

Klainot-Hess, ElizabethFracutured Faculty: Contingent Academic Labor and the Transformation of American Higher Education.  Book prospectus and sample chapters available upon request.

Dissertation Research: Precarious Work in the Academy

While the public has often viewed higher education as the bastion of comfortable, well-paid and secure jobs, and this may have been true fifty years ago, this is increasingly inaccurate today. Fifty years ago, 75% of faculty were in highly paid and secure tenure-track jobs, but today over 2/3 of faculty are in low-wage and insecure contingent faculty positions such as adjuncts and lecturers. As a result of these changes, the tenure system is being eclipsed by a new, two-tiered system in which a small core of tenure-track faculty are buffered by a large group of non-tenure-track, contingent workers – lecturers and adjunct professors. While researchers and activists have focused on variation and inequality between contingent and tenure-track faculty, contingent faculty are not a monolith – there are also important sources of variation among contingent faculty. To investigate inequality among contingent faculty, I conducted in-depth interviews with one hundred contingent faculty at two large public research universities, one which is unionized, and one which is not.

I wrote a book manuscript based on this research and 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 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 obstacles to collective action.  

My dissertation research identifies the fault lines that divide contingent faculty by developing a typology of contingent faculty based on two important dimensions that lead to variation 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 dimensions divide contingent faculty into four main groups: (1) Traditional Lecturers who chose contingent faculty positions voluntarily and who do not see them as an important source of income; (2) Blocked Scholars who originally sought, and failed to secure, tenure-track positions, but whose wages are not the primary source of income in their household; (3) Sacrificing Teachers who sought out contingent faculty positions because of a passion for teaching, but who do not have a higher-earning partner and thus are forced to make ends meet on their own low wages; and (4) Suffering Scholars who, like Blocked Scholars, sought and failed to secure tenure track positions — but, unlike them, do not have higher earning partners or spouses and so must attempt to make ends meet on very low wages. These four groups experience vastly different levels of job satisfaction, with only Traditional Lecturers experiencing high job satisfaction.  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.  Via a comparison of a unionized and non-unionized university, I find that when unions can successfully overcome these fault lines, they can bring about important improvements in job security, status, and job satisfaction.  However, they are still unable to overcome the two-tier system.  An article based on this research has Research in the Sociology of Work, and another article has been published in Labor Studies Journal, and my 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” 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. 

I also recently published an article in Labor Studies Journal about the benefits and limitations of unionization for contingent faculty. In addition, I am beginning a new research project studying participants in a popular internet forum about work and capitalism, to learn more about how people are responding to the transformation of the workplace and the additional changes brought about by the pandemic. I am especially interested in whether and how participating in this forum leads to collective action.