Prof. Heather Hofmeister and Team - Research

Our Research Topic: WORK

Interdisciplinary - International Comparative - Knowledge Transfer into Practice

Our research focusses on changes in work-life at the beginning of the 21st century. We examine emerging patterns in the meaning of work in the larger frame of human life, the function of human agency in the construction of work structures and the influence of work structures – including the manner of work and power relations within the work – on social interactions and individual behaviour. We look at consequences of these developments for individuals, social relations, families, work places.

The research in the specialty of sociology of work can be divided up into four different areas:

                   
                     
                     




Life Course and Gender Perspectives

ScienceBurn: Science Careers during and after working at an Elite Institution (Heather Hofmeister)

Project Team: Heather Hofmeister, Anne Kronberg, Matthias Revers (external)

Dates: 2016 - ongoing

The question of women’s lack of representation in science has received tremendous attention in the past decades.  One explanation for women’s lack of advancement to the upper echelons of science is their lack of presence in a given field at the entry and advancement levels. Another is the lower likelihood that women are accepted to elite institutions that provide or increase the probability of networks and visibility relevant for further careers.  What if both of these are not the case?

In our project, we control for the quality of the academic institution by selecting one elite science institution in Europe that has an equal representation of women and men at the pre-doctoral and post-doctoral level in a field where women have been strongly represented for decades.  We talk to current post-docs, current principal investigators, and alumni of this organization to see where people tend to go after leaving this institution and what are the processes by which they decide what to do next.  How can the exit of women from academic science be explained if the quality of the institution and the „pipeline“ are no longer factors?

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Media and Technology

The silent revolution of Work. An inquiry into the self-assessed Quality of Life of eWorkers (Alexandra Florea)

The number of people working primarily or exclusively online -- eWorkers -- is increasing exponentially over time. EWork on a freelance basis could be seen as the ultimate in disembodied work, detached from place completely and detached from most familiar worker protections.  We look at these workers: what are their beliefs about their work arrangements? What are the problems and solutions generated by this kind of working? What are the quality-of-life issues surrounding eWorking?

Work between Bits and Bites. Rationalisation of high quality work through digitization? (proposal)

Funded by: Own Goethe University Frankfurt resources, duration: 08/2014 – 07/2015

Project team: Dr. Mascha Will-Zocholl (Alumni)

In the course of the discussion about the change of work, the digitization of work is coming more and more into focus. The discourse about the “digital revolution” compares the extent of the changes with those of the industrial revolution. And although the scope of the changes is disputed, it is generally agreed that we are dealing with a qualitative leap in the development up until now. Phenomena of dissolution of  boundaries are identified in the context of work, both on individual and collective scales; in specific terms, we are dealing with the removal of boundaries between work and private life, the disengagement from localisations like the work space, spatial-geographic arrangements and temporal disengagement (e. g. flexible worktime models). Consequently, concepts of a totally mobile and selfdetermined way of work and life are being promoted. These should – ideally – lead to a new and unprecedented experience of work.  The goal of this project is to examine processes of digitization and virtualization of work in selected fields of research, which are considered as manifestations of a new stage  of informatization. We hope to gain insight into the consequences for work itself, the working people and the organisations.

The professional transformation of the public sphere (Matthias Revers, Alumni)

How the emergence of the internet and associated technologies reshape public life is a question of lasting importance. This project looks specifically at the influence of social media on professional media work. How do values of digital culture, like transparency, interactivity and participation, intersect with established occupational norms in media work? This study commenced with an ethnography on the adoption of Twitter by journalists and will expand to other occupational fields that engage in and constitute political public spheres through media work, namely political advocacy and academia (through public intellectuals).


Meaning and Identity

Social conceptions of meaningful work and individual experience of meaning of work

Funded by: DFG, duration: 2014-2016

Project team: Dr. Friedericke Hardering (project leader), Prof. Heather Hofmeister, Ph.D. (project leader), Dr. Mascha Will-Zocholl

This research project aims at developing empirical insights into the experiencing of meaning in worklife as well as conceptual ideas for the sociological discussion of meaningful work. Subjective aspects of individual attribution and experience of meaning and social conceptions of the notion of meaningful work are to be examined. Sociological research on the meaning of work has mainly taken place in work contexts with low margins of autonomy. This research therefore examines groups of professions with high professional autonomy.

The meaning of work (Friedericke Hardering)

Presently, the search for the meaning of work is being treated by numerous features and economic journals. The articles focus especially on the generation Y, born between 1980 and 1990, who supposedly have a strong interest in their search for the meaning of work. Others examples for the new search for the meaning of work are also people who change their profession. Sociology names this new requirement of work under the keyword normative subjectification of work (Baethge 1991). Numerous studies focus on the subjectification process and the subjectified work. Whereas some relevant terms such as self-fulfilment or autonomy are discussed intensively, the question remains unanswered as to what exactly is meant by the new expectations of meaning. What exactly are we looking for when we look for meaning? Is it about work contentment, questions of selffulfilment or den social benefit of work? And how is the search for meaning to be understood considering the current alienation phenomena in the working environment? In looking at different groups of workers - among others occupational changers - we aim at finding answers to these questions.

The above described questions will also be part of the research project “Social conceptions of meaningful work and individual experience of meaning of work” (see above).

The silent revolution of Work. An inquiry into the self-assessed Quality of Life of eWorkers (Alexandra Florea)

The number of people working primarily or exclusively online -- eWorkers -- is increasing exponentially over time. EWork on a freelance basis could be seen as the ultimate in disembodied work, detached from place completely and detached from most familiar worker protections.  We look at these workers: what are their beliefs about their work arrangements? What are the problems and solutions generated by this kind of working? What are the quality-of-life issues surrounding eWorking?

Professional cultures of journalism in the US and Germany (Matthias Revers, Alumni)

Journalism faces a dual crisis of economic survival and professional authority in the early 21st century. A question of pressing concern in this context is the role and democratic performance of professional news making. This comparative study shows that professional cultures of journalism, their distinct positions in civil societies and responses to global forces play a key role to answer this question. It is based on 3.5 years of qualitative field research at state house press corps in Albany and Munich, which mainly involved participant observation and interviews, as well as an extensive analysis of occupational discourses in obituaries of journalists and journalism award statements on a national level.


Careers and Leadership

Anne Kronberg

Role of Organizations in Shaping the Outcomes of Job Mobility

Since the 1970s careers have changed and more employees switch employers instead of climbing a career ladder from within. This project investigates what happens to careers after individuals entered a job via external hire or internal promotion and how this men and women differently. Most importantly, the project examines how the relationship between mode of job entry and earnings differences is shaped by organizational features. I use longitudinal employment records of a large U.S. employer (1997-2014) and 20 in-depth interviews with supervisors in different organizations.