Laurie Michaels

Laurie Michaels

Laurie Michaels

2014 Cohort

614 292-6681

238 Townshend Hall
1885 Neil Avenue Mall
Columbus, OH

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Areas of Expertise

  • Transnational Labor & Globalization
  • Gender, Race, & Class
  • Social Movements
  • Work, Economy, & Organizations

The overarching purpose of my dissertation research is to better understand the experiences of the 21st century worker, who increasingly relies on a mosaic of “gigs” to make ends meet. Based on in-depth interview data with fifty rideshare drivers, the project shows how workers leverage gig work to supplement stagnant incomes, extended unemployment, and underemployment. Much research on the emergence of the “gig economy” has been quantitative, exploring trends and documenting the extent and scope of this relatively new employment sector. This project employs an in-depth, qualitative angle, tapping into how macroeconomic processes and broad changes to the labor market influence workers’ phenomenological experiences at work and shape the meaning of their actions and routines.

More specifically, the purposes of my research are multifold: First, the project shows that in the gig economy, conditions external to the labor process shape work experiences; it is argued that a new theory of labor control – dubbed ecological control – is needed to understand workers’ motivations and patterns of consent. This research elucidates the fears and economic concerns which prompt workers to enter the gig economy in the first place. Second, this research depicts how “shop floor games” are strategically deployed by gig workers to create a sense of structure to their workday, as well as to construct an image of themselves as autonomous and powerful within a labor process which positions them as dispensable and easily replaced. Understanding why rideshare drivers consent to the conditions of production requires a reassembling of sociological understandings of what it means to be a worker; findings show that economic and social features of workers’ lives are just as critical as labor process features in shaping the contours and meanings of “shop floor games” and their associated reward systems. Third, this research uncovers how the experiences of gig workers vary by race and gender characteristics, finding that female rideshare drivers are susceptible to violent encounters and non-white rideshare drivers frequently face racism and discrimination in the workplace. This research elucidates how the labor process of rideshare driving interacts with ascriptive characteristics, while also documenting the felt effects of debureaucratization on the labor process.

By expanding upon traditional socioeconomic approaches and incorporating qualitative narratives of respondents’ lived experiences, my research delves into how workers cope, strategize, and sacrifice to secure financially for themselves and their families in the context of a post-recession labor market landscape. As stable employment remains elusive, it is argued that sociologists ought to consider the material and symbolic sacrifices workers make in in patching together a collage of technologically mediated “gigs” in lieu of steady, full-time work. Overall, this research uncovers how lingering doubts, economic anxieties, and financial instability continue to define the contours of many working Americans’ lives, a decade after economists’ claims that the Great Recession is “over.”