Author Archives: matt vidal


Image: The Blue Diamond Gallery (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Over the past three decades, income inequality has risen in most of the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. A recent analysis of 22 OECD countries from 1985 to 2013 found that inequality increased in 17 of them (including the US, UK, Canada and Germany), underwent little change in four (Belgium, Netherlands, France, Greece) and declined in only one (Turkey). Over the same period, in the 17 richest countries GDP growth primarily benefitted the top 10% of the population, with the bottom 40% receiving little from a quarter century of growth.

The prevailing explanation for rising inequality – the mainstream economics explanation – is that technology did it. There are no capitalists making investment decisions, no managers making employment decisions and certainly no class struggle. Only technical change, supply and demand. Here I want to make the case for the centrality of class struggle in driving inequality.

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We had another great year at Work in Progress and are delighted to see our readership continuing to rise substantially through the end of our fourth year. Our inaugural post went live on Oct 12, 2011. Our number of annual unique viewers — which are in the tens of thousands — increased 50% from 2013 to 2014, and an additional 30% from 2014-15. Not bad for a sociology blog from an American Sociological Association section with around 800 members!

Here are the top 10 most viewed post from 2015, beginning with the most viewed article and listed in descending order. Enjoy and have a great new year!

1) Early Childhood Education: No Place for Men? | Lata Murti

2) Canaries in the Coal Mine? Saida Grundy, Zandria Robinson, and Why Calls for their Firing are a Problem for Everyone | Adia Harvey Wingfield

3) Fixing the bad jobs economy | Herbert J Gans

4) Reframing Gender Equality: Explaining the Stalled Gender Revolution | David Cotter, Joan Hermsen & Reeve Vanneman

5) Flirking (Flirting at Work to Get Ahead): Why Some Women Do It | Julie Kmec

6) Citations are not enough: Academic promotion panels must take into account a scholar’s presence in popular media | Asit Biswas and Julian Kirchherr

7) Sociology versus Individualism | Jeremy Reynolds

8) Stand up and Be Counted: Why social science should stop using the qualitative / quantitative dichotomy | Howard Aldrich

9) A Luddite, An Economist and a Marxist Walk Into a Modern Factory … | Matt Vidal

10) The Tyranny of Leveled Workplaces | William Attwood-Charles and Juliet B. Schor

Image: John Keatley via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Image: John Keatley via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Since I conducted research on manufacturing in the US Midwest in the early aughts, I’ve kept in contact with a few of my informants. One of them, Paul D. Ericksen, has 38 years of experience working in procurement and supply management, primarily in two household-name, multinational manufacturing corporations. Ericksen has been writing a blog on Next Generation Supply Management at IndustryWeek since April 2014, and I’ve been keenly following it.

The Ericksen blog is an object lesson in how wide the gulf is between the everyday problems facing manufacturing managers in the real world and the way academics represent management within mainstream management theory. By mainstream management theory, I have in mind the economistic literature based on assumptions that individuals are rational maximizers and markets are inherently efficient (as opposed to the sociological literature, which emphasizes how cultural institutions and power relations in the real world systematically undermine the maximization of efficiency).

Ericksen worked with many hundreds, perhaps thousands of factories that supplied parts and subassemblies to the Fortune 500 companies he worked for. Based on this experience, he highlights a number of ways in which deeply embedded forms of culture and power, in both the multinational corporate brands (prime contractors) and their suppliers (subcontractors), generate and sustain systematic inefficiencies in their organizations. (For academic studies that document and triangulate such outcomes with the views of other informants, see my colleague Josh Whitford’s book on the decentralization of American manufacturing, as well as my own study of routine inefficiency in factories.)

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In Oct-Nov of 2014, we ran a virtual symposium on “The future of organizational sociology,” with short contributions from 14 organizational sociologists. We have now compiled all of those contributions into a single pdf document (just over 17,000 words), which can be found here.

We hope that many will find this document useful, particularly for academics teaching organizational sociology, but also non-academics wondering what organizational sociology is all about and wanting to have the views of a number of leading organizational sociologists in a single document. With any luck, the ideas in this document may also help some young PhD students who are trying to figure out a topic for their PhD thesis!

I am delighted to announce a virtual panel on “Who should benefit from organizational research?” This panel was inspired by an Editorial Essay written by Gerald F Davis in Administrative Science Quarterly entitled “What Is Organizational Research For?” Professor Davis is editor of the Administrative Science Quarterly, the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Management at the Ross School of Business and a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan.

We have reproduced an extract of that essay here, and invited responses from five leading organization studies scholars. In each of the following days this week, we’ll post a response from the following scholars:

Steven Ackroyd, emeritus professor, Lancaster University Management School.

Nancy DiTomaso, Professor of Management and Global Business at Rutgers Business School—Newark and New Brunswick.

Paul Hirsch, the James L. Allen Professor of Strategy & Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Steven Vallas, professor of sociology, Northeastern University.

Hugh Willmott, professor in organization studies, Cass Business School, City University London, and Cardiff Business School.

A recent New York Times article discusses research showing that pressures to work long hours and a culture of overwork are reinforcing gender inequality.

The article quotes Robin Ely, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, who states that “24/7 work cultures lock gender inequality in place, because the work-family balance problem is recognized as primarily a woman’s problem.” The study was coauthored by sociologists Irene Padavic of Florida State University and Erin Reid of Boston University.

The article also quotes sociologist Mary Blair-Loy, of University of California, San Diego, and refers to her research on gender identities and cultural expectations regarding gender and work performance.

Walmart-Logo_color_0Walmart made headlines recently by announcing it is raising its base wage rate to $9 per hour (going to $10 per hour in 2016). In response, Gary Silverman of The Financial Times suggests that “Walmart stirs hopes of a Fordist revival,” referring to Henry Ford’s famous implementation of a $5 day in 1914 – double the going rate at the time. Similarly, Paul Krugman, Princeton economist and New York Times columnist, argues that Walmart’s “wage hike seems to reflect the same forces that led to” rising real wages and declining inequality for nearly three decades after the Second World War.

While the comparison between Walmart and Ford is apt in some respects, unfortunately, the broader institutional context of today’s postindustrial, globalized, financialized economy is far different from that of the post-WWII years. As a result, the move by Wal-Mart is unlikely to signal a broad reversal of the current trajectory of the American labor market, which is characterized by stagnating wages and rising inequality.

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Harvard sociology professor Orlando Patterson recently had an article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education on “How sociologists made themselves irrelevant.” He discusses how sociologists have had almost no influence on the design of policies dealing with poverty among black youth and related problems such as unemployment, gangs and incarceration, despite the fact that these topics have been core topics of sociological research for decades. He argues that the main problem is that “In the effort to keep ourselves academically pure, we’ve also become largely irrelevant in molding the most important social enterprises of our era.”

As a result, sociologists have been reticent to engage in public discourse. The main shapers of policy have been economists, who often come to radically different conclusions than sociologists, based on differing theoretical assumptions, which affect research design. For instance, sociologists find that moving people out of ghettos has strong positive effects on outcomes for black youth, while economists find that such an effect does not exist. Patterson wryly quips that the rational response to the finding that neighborhoods have no effect on youth outcomes means that scholars should advise their children move to the inner city to take advantage of low rents!

Happy new year!

The following are the top five most viewed posts of 2014.

1) Early Childhood Education: No Place for Men? by Lata Murti

2) Stand up and Be Counted: Why social science should stop using the qualitative / quantitative dichotomy by Howard Aldrich

3) Working mothers see penalties when they adjust work schedules after having children by Julie Kmec

4) Mother, Sex Object, Worker: The Transformation of the Female Flight Attendant by Lisa Wade

5) Flirking (Flirting at Work to Get Ahead): Why Some Women Do It by Julie Kmec

In a recent blog post, Howard Aldrich argued that social scientists should drop the distinction between quantitative and qualitative research. I want to push back here and argue that there are important differences between the two methods which must be recognized to ensure high quality research. To be sure, the starting point of the discussion should be recognition of the underlying unity of research methodology, about which Charles Ragin has written eloquently. Quantitative and qualitative methods are both tools for advancing theory and knowledge. But these methods advance theory in distinct, complementary ways. To realize the full potential of research methodology requires recognizing these differences.

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