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Meetingby Steve Vincent

Common sense suggests professional self-employment is liberating, for women in particular. Women are more likely to choose to work reduced hours when self-employed because they bear the burden of domestic responsibilities. As a consequence, careers that promise flexibility can be attractive.

Arguably, self-employed professionals can take control of their working time by spacing contracts with clients. As their work is typically mobilised by technology, they can often choose when and where they work. As a result, they can escape the long-hours culture typical of professional work and pattern their working lives to suit their personal interests.

In short, if employment fails to deliver suitable working patters, self-employed professionals can go their own way.

My recent research questions this common sense view by exploring the practices of self-employed human resources (HR) consultants. The research indicates that self-employed consultants who chose to work fewer hours experienced some fairly intractable forms of disadvantage. Here’s why.

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pink collarI recently talked with my colleague, Associate Professor of Sociology at Washington State University, Dr. Jennifer Schwartz about her April 2013 American Sociological Review collaboration with Darrell Steffensmeier and Michael Roche entitled “Gender and Twenty-First-Century Corporate Crime: Female Involvement and the Gender Gap in Enron-Era Corporate Frauds.”

The article is of particular interest to readers of this blog for its application of theories of work (e.g., homosocial reproduction, network theory, and theories of power at work) to explain the connection between gender and corporate malfeasance.  This piece also tells us about gender differences in work styles and locations:  women engage in less “big time” corporate fraud than do men, a fact that is NOT fully explained by their lower level corporate positions. The authors suggest male-dominated networks at the top of work organizations and informal barriers to women’s upward mobility may explain why men outpace women in corporate fraud.

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Young and Isolated

by Jennifer M. Silva

(This article was originally published in the New York Times. The original version can be read here.)

In a working-class neighborhood in Lowell, Mass., in early 2009, I sat across the table from Diana, then 24, in the kitchen of her mother’s house. Diana had planned to graduate from college, marry, buy a home in the suburbs and have kids, a dog and a cat by the time she was 30. But she had recently dropped out of a nearby private university after two years of study and with nearly $80,000 in student loans. Now she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“With college,” she explained, “I would have had to wait five years to get a degree, and once I get that, who knows if I will be working and if I would find something I wanted to do. I don’t want to be a cop or anything. I don’t know what to do with it. My manager says some people are born to make coffee, and I guess I was born to make coffee.”

Young working-class men and women like Diana are trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs and shrinking social support networks. Today, only 20 percent of men and women between 18 and 29 are married. They live at home longer, spend more years in college, change jobs more frequently and start families later.

For more affluent young adults, this may look a lot like freedom. But for the hundred-some working-class 20- and 30-somethings I interviewed between 2008 and 2010 in Lowell and Richmond, Va., at gas stations, fast-food chains, community colleges and temp agencies, the view is very different.

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P&P

John F. Padgett and Walter W. Powell. 2012. The Emergence of Organizations and Markets. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Innovation in the sense of product design is a popular research topic today, because there is a lot of money in that. Innovation, however, in the deeper sense of new actors—new types of people, new organizational forms—is not even much on the research radar screen of contemporary social scientists, even though “speciation” (to use the biologists’ term for this) lies at the heart of historical change over the longue durée, both in biological evolution and in human history. Social science—meaning mostly economics, political science and sociology—is very good at understanding selection, both at the micro level of individual choice and at the macro level of institutional regulation and lock-in. But novelty, especially of actors but also of alternatives, has first to enter from off the stage of our collective imaginary for our existing theories to be able to go to work. Our analytical shears for trimming are sharp, but the life forces that push up novelty to be trimmed tend to escape our attention, much less our understanding. If this book accomplishes anything, we at least hope to put the research topic of speciation—the emergence of new organizational forms and people—on our collective agenda.

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