My current research is focused on connective labor, i.e., work that relies on relationship such as therapy, teaching, primary care medicine, childcare and the like. These are jobs that traditionally rely on individual charisma and emotional intuition, skills that are hard to train, predict or evaluate. I am interested in how we standardize this work, and am looking at everything from manuals and checklists to automation and artificial intelligence. So far, this has involved in-depth interviews and observations with practitioners (therapists, teachers and doctors) and engineers/principals/administrators. We are expanding the study into other occupations, which might include parole officers/social workers/home health care workers, etc. We also want to talk to patients/students/clients, etc. My goal is twofold: 1) to make this work visible, and 2) to explore the costs and benefits of making it more systematic.
USOAR students will do a variety of tasks, possibly including: bibliographic help (finding and summarizing sources); observing in semi-public locations (e.g., taking notes in classes where nurses or teachers or therapists are trained in how to connect to their clients); assisting in recruitment activities (posting flyers, emailing potential participants); assisting in interviews or focus groups with middle-schoolers; using/experiencing apps for medicine/therapy/teaching and recording their experiences; reading and coding interviews or other texts (e.g. manuals for interpersonal therapy that are distributed to the Veterans Administration hospital therapists); brainstorming important themes and generating memos that help us think about what the data are saying. I have a lot of experience teaching students how to conduct qualitative methods.
Students should have some sociology coursework under their belt. Journalism or other writing experience a plus. Other helpful skills: ability to observe without being very noticeable, ability to manage personal discomfort (of being observer/outsider in group); ability to type or text quickly or take shorthand or otherwise record good observation notes. Some emotional sensitivity, i.e., the capacity to hear subtext in interviews. Also useful to be able to think interpretively and analytically (to see patterns in a bunch of text, to identify potential themes, etc).
1) the conduct of qualitative methods: how to design and execute planned observation, interviews, focus groups, etc.
2) qualitative data analysis: how researchers figure out the meanings, emotions and processes going on in a particular situation.
3) the substantive focus of this research: what do teachers/therapists/etc think is the crux of their work, how does that compare to what students/patients/clients think, how does that vary depending on the standardization of their work, how do apps or AI shape the experience of connective labor, etc.