Ethnographies of Work

ISBN: 978-1-83753-949-9, eISBN: 978-1-83753-948-2

ISSN: 0277-2833

Publication date: 12 December 2023


(2023), "Prelims", Delbridge, R., Helfen, M., Pekarek, A. and Purser, G. (Ed.) Ethnographies of Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. i-xvi.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024 Rick Delbridge, Markus Helfen, Andreas Pekarek and Gretchen Purser

Half Title Page


Series Page


Editor-in-Chief: Rick Delbridge

Associate Editors: Andreas (Andi) Pekarek, Gretchen Purser and Markus Helfen

Recent Volumes:

Volume 1: Class Consciousness
Volume 2: Peripheral Workers
Volume 3: Unemployment
Volume 4: High Tech Work
Volume 5: The Meaning of Work
Volume 6: The Globalization of Work
Volume 7: Work and Family
Volume 8: Deviance in the Workplace
Volume 9: Marginal Employment
Volume 10: Transformation of Work
Volume 11: Labor Revitalization: Global Perspectives and New Initiatives
Volume 12: The Sociology of Job Training
Volume 13: Globalism/Localism at Work
Volume 14: Diversity in the Workforce
Volume 15: Entrepreneurship
Volume 16: Worker Participation: Current Research and Future Trends
Volume 17: Work Place Temporalities
Volume 18: Economic Sociology of Work
Volume 19: Work and Organizations in China After Thirty Years of Transition
Volume 20: Gender and Sexuality in the Workplace
Volume 21: Institutions and Entrepreneurship
Volume 22: Part 1: Comparing European Workers Part A
Part 2: Comparing European Workers Part B: Policies and Institutions
Volume 23: Religion, Work, and Inequality
Volume 24: Networks, Work and Inequality
Volume 25: Adolescent Experiences and Adult Work Outcomes: Connections and Causes
Volume 26: Work and Family in the New Economy
Volume 27: Immigration and Work
Volume 28: A Gedenkschrift to Randy Hodson: Working with Dignity
Volume 29: Research in the Sociology of Work
Volume 30: Emerging Conceptions of Work, Management and the Labor Market
Volume 31: Precarious Work
Volume 32: Race, Identity and Work
Volume 33: Work and Labor in the Digital Age
Volume 34: Professional Work: Knowledge, Power and Social Inequalities


  • Ifeoma Ajunwa

    Cornell University, USA

  • Michel Anteby

    Boston University, USA

  • Steve Barley

    Stanford University, USA

  • David Courpasson

    Emlyon Business School, France

  • Liz Gorman

    University of Virginia, USA

  • Bill Harley

    University of Melbourne, Australia

  • Heather Hofmeister

    Goethe University, Germany

  • Hajo Holst

    University of Osnabrück, Germany

  • Alexandra Kalev

    Tel Aviv University, Israel

  • Arne Kalleberg

    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, USA

  • Erin Kelly

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

  • Kate Kellogg

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

  • Julie Kmec

    Washington State University, USA

  • Marek Korczynski

    University of Nottingham, UK

  • Anne Kovalainen

    University of Turku, Finland

  • Robin Leidner

    University of Pennsylvania, USA

  • Steve Lopez

    Ohio State University, USA

  • Irene Padavic

    Florida State University, USA

  • Valeria Pulignano

    Catholic University, Belgium

  • Lauren Rivera

    Northwestern University, USA

  • Dee Royster

    New York University, USA

  • Vinnie Roscigno

    Ohio State University, USA

  • Jeff Sallaz

    University of Arizona, USA

  • Ofer Sharone

    University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA

  • Sheryl Skaggs

    University of Texas Dallas, USA

  • Don Tomaskovic-Devey

    University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA

  • Catherine Turco

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

  • Steve Vallas

    Northeastern University, USA

  • Geert Van Hootegem

    Catholic University, Belgium

  • Matt Vidal

    King’s College London, UK

  • Chris Warhurst

    University of Warwick, UK

  • Christine Williams

    University of Texas Austin, USA

  • George Wilson

    University of Miami, USA

  • Adia Wingfield

    Washington University St Louis, USA

  • Patrizia Zanoni

    Hasselt University, Belgium

Title Page





Cardiff University, UK


Hertie School, Germany


University of Melbourne, Australia



Syracuse University, USA

United Kingdom – North America – Japan – India – Malaysia – China

Copyright Page

Emerald Publishing Limited

Emerald Publishing, Floor 5, Northspring, 21-23 Wellington Street, Leeds LS1 4DL

First edition 2024

Editorial matter and selection © 2024 Rick Delbridge, Markus Helfen, Andreas Pekarek and Gretchen Purser.

Individual chapters © 2024 the authors.

Published under exclusive licence by Emerald Publishing Limited.

Reprints and permissions service


No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. Any opinions expressed in the chapters are those of the authors. Whilst Emerald makes every effort to ensure the quality and accuracy of its content, Emerald makes no representation implied or otherwise, as to the chapters’ suitability and application and disclaims any warranties, express or implied, to their use.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-83753-949-9 (Print)

ISBN: 978-1-83753-948-2 (Online)

ISBN: 978-1-83753-950-5 (Epub)

ISSN: 0277-2833 (Series)


About the Editors ix
About the Contributors xi
Preface xv
Chapter 1: Why Ethnographies of Work? An Introduction
Rick Delbridge, Markus Helfen, Andreas Pekarek and Gretchen Purser 1
Chapter 2: Divided Wages and Divided Workers: Tips and the Two-Employer Problem
Hanna Goldberg 9
Chapter 3: ‘It’s Simple, If You Stand Still You Do Not Get Paid’: Piece Wage Games as Indirect Modality of Control in the Platform-mediated Food Delivery Sector
Floris de Krijger 35
Chapter 4: Work and Sustainability at Twin Oaks Intentional Community
Monica Bhatia 73
Chapter 5: Who is a Digital Nomad? The Evolving Identities of the New Nomadic Workforce
Alma Andino-Frydman 95
Chapter 6: The Great Realization: Online Freelancers and the Meaning of Flexibility
Michael Dunn, Isabel Munoz, Clea O’Neil and Steve Sawyer 139
Chapter 7: What Happened? Ethnographic Stories of the Strategic Road Network
Felicity Heathcote-Marcz and Sideeq Mohammed 157
Chapter 8: Feeling Precarious in Ethnographic Research Methods and in Personal Circumstances: Ideal Types and Real World Complexity
Krzysztof Z. Jankowski 165
Chapter 9: Revealing Oneself: When Doing Fieldwork with Journalists Challenges Your Identity Work as a Researcher in Management
Laurianne Terlinden 173
Chapter 10: Beyond the Company Line: Studying Workplace Inequalities Ethnographically
Lauren A. Rivera 183
Index 197

About the Editors

Rick Delbridge is Professor of Organizational Analysis at Cardiff Business School and Co-convenor of the Centre for Innovation Policy Research, Cardiff University. He has research interests across various aspects of work, management, organization, and innovation in both private and public sector organizations and has published widely on these aspects. He also has a long-standing interest in Japanese business and management and is currently undertaking work on traditional Japanese craft firms. He has been awarded best paper prizes by Academy of Management Review and Organization Studies. He has been elected to Fellowships of the Academy of Social Sciences, British Academy of Management, and the Learned Society of Wales.

Markus Helfen, Hertie School Berlin, Germany, is a Senior Research Fellow in the Hertie School as well as a Private Lecturer at Freie Universität, Berlin. He is a Member of the Advisory Boards of the German Journal of Human Resource Management and the journal Industrielle BeziehungenThe German Journal of Industrial Relations. He is a Regular Co-convenor at the European Group of Organization Studies (EGOS) annual colloquia and the international research group ‘Organization Studies and Industrial Relations’. He publishes in leading management and industrial relations journals like Organization Studies, Human Relations, and the British Journal of Industrial Relations. He does research in the fields of organization theory and employment relations with a focus on collective action, institutional work, and sustainability. His current research focuses on the humanization of warehouse work in the digital transformation and on global labour standards in supply chains.

Andreas (Andi) Pekarek is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He is fascinated by how people work, and his research has focused on how collective action by workers and their allies can steer the world of work in a more sustainable direction, towards fairness and social justice. His recent projects have centred on gig work in the platform economy, unions and industrial relations institutions, the HRM occupation, and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of work. He has published in leading journals, such as Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Human Resource Management Journal, British Journal of Industrial Relations, and New Technology, Work and Employment. In addition to his role as Associate Editor for Research in the Sociology of Work, he serves on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Industrial Relations (Sage).

Gretchen Purser is Associate Professor of Sociology at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She earned her PhD in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley and has held postdocs at the University of California at Davis and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her research predominantly focuses on the intersection of low-wage precarious work and urban poverty and, more specifically, the growing role and significance of labour market intermediaries in the United States. She is a committed ethnographer and has published in leading sociology and anthropologyjournals, such as Ethnography, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Critical Sociology, and Anthropology of Work Review. She is the recipient of numerous publication awards from both the American Sociological Association and the Working Class Studies Association. In addition to her role as Associate Editor for Research in the Sociology of Work, she serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the Marxist Sociology Blog and as commissioning editor for Work In Progress.

About the Contributors

Alma Andino-Frydman is a Junior at Stanford University, studying the future of work from the disciplines of Labor Economics and Sociology. She is originally from Argentina but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she began her informal investigation into digital nomadism by travelling through Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, teaching yoga in cowork hostels and sparking a deep interest in the changing nature of work. Having worked for a labour rights advocacy organization, she wanted to investigate these changes more formally and gained sponsorship through the Chappell Lougee Scholarship program to execute this investigation. She has previously written about digital nomad productivity and motivation for the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. She hopes to continue her exploration of remote work by investigating its impact on gentrification, management practices, industrial organization, urban planning, and development opportunities.

Monica Bhatia is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation focuses on sustainability and inequality in ecological intentional communities. Her research and teaching interests include gender and sexuality, organizations, work, inequality, and environmental sociology. Her work has previously appeared in Environmental Sociology.

Michael Dunn is Faculty at Skidmore College’s Department of Management and Business, Skidmore College, USA. His education began with an MBA, shifting to the study of work and employment, including studies of contingent work and platform work, during his doctorate (in sociology) at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His work is focused on issues at the confluence of technology and labour market outcomes with a specific emphasis on precarious and non-standard work arrangements. His work is theoretically informed by the sociology of work, and organizations and labour studies. In the previous decade, he has worked on five NIH-funded efforts focused on precarious and underserved worker populations (i.e. tribal workers, day labourers, and ex-offenders). From 2015 to 2017, he was a Visiting Researcher at the Bureau of Labour Statistics. His methodological orientation is primarily qualitative and has field-based research experience with rideshare/transportation, delivery/task, crowdwork, and online freelance platforms.

Hanna Goldberg is a doctoral student in the CUNY Graduate Center Program in Sociology and holds a master’s in Food Studies from Syracuse University’s Falk College. She studies work and labor across the many realms that constitute the ‘American Century,’ from shopping mall service work to missile production. Her recent, principally ethnographic research examined tipped service work in a national chain restaurant and the emergence of the US tipped subminimum wage.

Felicity Heathcote-Marcz is the Head of Behavioural Insight at CDS, a Digital Agency that is part of the Bailie Group. Before joining CDS Felicity worked as a Research Consultant for public and private sector organizations while part of Atkins Intelligent Mobility Practice. This work enabled access to the wonderful world of the Traffic Officers. She completed her PhD at Alliance Manchester Business School and is interested in the critical praxis and dialogues between industry and academia. She has published a book chapter in ‘The Science of Superheroes’ for the Royal Society of Chemistry, and a book review of Tim Ingold’s Life of Lines, also with Sideeq Mohammed, along with thought leadership articles at various media publications.

Krzysztof Z. Jankowski attained an M.Phil. in Sociology from The University of Hong Kong where he examined global-mobile society and identity. He is currently a PhD student at The University of Glasgow, Scotland, where he is researching at the intersection of precarious work, adulthood, and urban sociology.

Floris De Krijger is an Interdisciplinary PhD Researcher at Hasselt University (Belgium). He has a background in critical organization studies, colonial history, and political science. He specializes in qualitative research methods (discourse and affect analysis, participatory observations, etc.) and mostly draws on Marxist theory, queer theory, and psychoanalysis in his research. He is currently preparing a PhD dissertation on the politics of corporate activism tentatively called: ‘Corporate activism and its discontents: Psychosocial essays on capital, activist affect and (un)desiring the political’.

Sideeq Mohammed is the Associate Dean of Education and Undergraduate Student Experience at Kent Business School. His work draws on the writings of philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in order to critically reflect on the social, political, and ethical problems of ‘organisation’ in the contemporary milieu. He is the Author of ‘Stories and Organization in the Anthropocene: A Critical Look at the Impossibility of Sustainability’.

Isabel Munoz is a PhD candidate at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool), Syracuse University, USA. She received her Master’s degree in Communication from the University of Wyoming. She is focused on human–computer interaction, namely, information systems design and technology-supported resilience research. Her specific interests are centred on supporting underrepresented populations and women in pursuing and succeeding in digital work.

Clea O’Neil is an Undergraduate Research Fellow with the Digital Work Group and a Sophomore at Skidmore College, USA, majoring in Business-Political Science and minoring in Anthropology. Broadly, Clea is interested in understanding career strategies and how they relate to non-standard work arrangements. Most recently, Clea’s focus has been on how the gig economy has changed over time and where online freelancing is headed in the future.

Lauren A. Rivera is Professor of Management & Organizations and Professor of Sociology (by courtesy) at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Her research analyzes gatekeeping and inequality in organizations and markets. She is the Author of the award-winning book Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs (Princeton University Press). She received her BA in Sociology and Psychology from Yale University and her PhD in Sociology from Harvard University.

Steve Sawyer is the Faculty of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, USA. His research focuses on the changing forms of work and organizing enabled through uses of information and communication technologies. This is done through detailed field-based studies of scientific collaborators, software developers, real estate agents, police officers, organizational technologists, freelance and nomadic workers, and other information-intensive work settings. He has also been active in advancing sociotechnical approaches to studying computing collectively known as social informatics and emphasizing the sociotechnical basis of digital technologies. Sawyer’s work is published in a range of venues and supported by funds from the National Science Foundation, IBM, Corning, and a number of other public and private sponsors. Prior to returning to Syracuse, Steve was a Founding Faculty Member of the Pennsylvania State University’s College of Information Sciences and Technology. He earned his Doctorate from Boston University in 1995.

Laurianne Terlinden holds a PhD in Economics and Management Sciences from Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium. Her research focuses on new ways of working and identity construction in organizations. To study these issues, she uses qualitative and, more recently, ethnographic research methods.


A Welcome from the New Editorial Team

We are very pleased to welcome you to Volume 35 in the Emerald Series Research in the Sociology of Work. This is the first volume edited by the new editorial team of Rick Delbridge, Markus Helfen, Andreas (Andi) Pekarek, and Gretchen Purser.

First, we would like to place on record our gratitude to Steve Vallas who has edited the series for a number of years. It was Steve’s suggestion that we might like to take over the series and we are grateful to him for that and also to Katy Mathers of Emerald for the opportunity. Our primary reason for agreeing to take on the editorship of RSW was to ensure the continuation of a home for research which explores the realities of work, the dynamics of workplace relations and labour markets, as well as the wider societal contexts that shape the worlds of work. It would appear that researching work and workers has been given less priority in the last few decades. Or at least, such studies seem to appear less often in some of our most prominent journal outlets. There are notable exceptions, of course, and we are pleased to take our place alongside the colleagues who edit, for example, Work, Employment & Society, Work & Occupations, and Work in the Global Economy.

The study of work, workplaces, and labour markets is more important than ever. There are a series of developments, one might say a confluence of circumstances, which are threatening to make the day to day experiences of workers ever more challenging. To note just a few, there is the increasing prevalence of precarious and insecure work arrangements, developments in new technologies that are heralding major changes across occupations in many – new as well as mature – segments of the labour market, and the ongoing economic and social upheaval wrought by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. These developments are all shaping the contemporary workplace and the wider landscape for workers in various ways across the globe. Naturally, each of these individual elements has echoes of previous periods and it would be mistaken to assume that all of the current conditions facing workers are novel. Nonetheless, the current combination of challenges represents a particularly problematic context. It is one which we hope will be closely recorded and evaluated by researchers of work and labour markets.

It is our intention that forthcoming editions of RSW will provide a home for critical, rigorous, and interesting research, and we intend to offer a variety of ways in which researchers can communicate their findings to our readership. You will see in this first volume that we have contributions documenting a variety of different ethnographic studies of work and that these adopt a range of styles and formats from shorter reflective pieces through to extended presentations of empirical findings and analysis. With this series, we have some greater flexibility than is often found in more conventional journal outlets and we are keen to draw upon this greater breadth of form. This enables us to both respond to how authors feel is the most effective way of them communicating with their audiences and to make our volumes accessible and interesting for our readers.

We are also particularly pleased that this first volume of our editorship is based on ethnographic research as we are keen advocates of this method. Across our editorial team, we have had diverse and rewarding experiences conducting our own ethnographic research immersed as participant observers in diverse settings ranging from factories and union offices to the practice of day labour in a variety of dangerous, dirty, and degrading jobs. We remain keen to promote and support ethnographic research since it can offer the type of fine-grained and exploratory data that provide insights beyond other methods. What is particularly gratifying is that we have a number of doctoral studies represented in this volume. It is great to see the continuation of strong traditions of ethnographic research within the sociology of work. We anticipate that we will run further calls for ethnographic-based contributions in the future, and we hope that this will become one of the features of RSW during this editorial team’s period of office.

There are further volumes in the pipeline, and we encourage readers to continue to monitor the series webpage for future calls for papers. We are currently working with calls for submissions to thematic volumes rather than having an open call for contributions but we welcome ideas both for volumes and individual papers and would be happy to discuss these with potential contributors. Finally, we want to thank all of the reviewers who read and constructively commented on the submitted manuscripts.

We hope you enjoy Volume 35.

Rick, Andi, Gretchen and Markus


Research in the Sociology of Work