John H. Evans (chair), Mary Blair-Loy, Akos Rona-Tas, Christena Turner, Rebecca Plant (History)
My dissertation was funded by the National Science Foundation and UC San Diego’s Chancellor’s Research Excellence Scholarship.
I am interested in how professionals explain work in a precarious economy, with specific interest in the cultural ideologies that men and women use to interpret and/or insulate themselves from the potentially negative effects of precarity. My dissertation is titled, “Precarity and the Passion Paradigm: How Work Passion Both Increases Perceptions of Individual Control and Depoliticizes Work in a Precarious Economy.”
In it I analyze the symbiotic relationship between precarity and what I call the passion paradigm, a pervasive work ideology in which the pursuit of passion at work is highly valued and prioritized. I ask: What does professional adherence to the passion paradigm do in the context of the new economy?
I compare data from 74 interviews and corresponding surveys with fulltime engineers, nurses, and graphic designers who work in either secure, traditional organizations or market positions such as consultants, contractors or small business owners. I interviewed an equal number of self-identified men and women in each cell, such that I over-sampled female engineers and under-sampled female nurses. My design allows me to compare between occupations, as well as hold occupation constant while comparing objectively more precarious professionals to less precarious professionals.
I have two central arguments. First, the passion paradigm thrives among young professionals in a precarious economy because it deeply individualizes the experience of work, allowing professionals to perceive control over their work in an otherwise vulnerable and unstable context. Second, because the passion paradigm relies on individualizing work in order to effectively function, the passion paradigm is fundamentally depoliticizing; it obscures structural causes of work strife and inequality, undermines collective consciousness, makes adherents vulnerable to exploitation, and creates cultural conditions conducive to precarity as individuals ‘search’ for their passion. In consequence, though professionals perceive that work passion contributes to their happiness, it simultaneously precludes their potential to demand cultural and institutional changes to promote more equitable access to economic and psychological well-being at work.