Monday, November 15, 2010
[IWS] ILR Press: FREELANCING EXPERTISE: Contract Professionals in the New Economy [November 2010]
IWS Documented News Service
Institute for Workplace Studies----------------- Professor Samuel B. Bacharach
School of Industrial & Labor Relations-------- Director, Institute for Workplace Studies
16 East 34th Street, 4th floor---------------------- Stuart Basefsky
New York, NY 10016 -------------------------------Director, IWS News Bureau
ILR Press (an imprint of Cornell University Press)
FREELANCING EXPERTISE: Contract Professionals in the New Economy
by Debra Osnowitz
Available in NOVEMBER, 272 pages, 6 x 9
Contract work is more important than ever—for better or for worse, depending on one's perspective. The security once implied by a full-time job with a stable employer is becoming rarer, thereby erasing one of the major distinctions between "freelance work" and a "steady gig." Why hang on to a regular job for the sake of security if security can no longer be assumed? Instead, contractors, hired temporarily for specific knowledge and skills, market their expertise as they move from project to project. Even though their employment is precarious, a great many consider freelancing preferable to holding a "regular" job: the control they feel over their time and careers is well worth the risks that come with relatively uncertain cash flow.
Freelancing Expertise is a qualitative study of decision making, work practices, and occupational processes among writers and editors who work in print and Web communications and programmers and engineers who work in software and systems development. Debra Osnowitz conducted sixty-eight extended interviews with representatives of both groups and twelve interviews with managers and recruiters, observed four different work settings in which contractors work alongside employees, and monitored blogs and online discussions among contractors. As a result, she provides a unique and sensitive assessment of a cultural shift in occupations and organizations. Osnowitz calls for a reconfiguration of the employer/employee relationship that accepts more variation and flexibility: just as "freelancing" has, over time, taken on many traits considered characteristic of traditional career paths, so might regular jobs make themselves more appealing to today's workforce by mimicking some of the positive aspects of transactions between clients and contract workers.
"Freelancing Expertise is a detailed and nuanced description of important dimensions of contracting work today. Debra Osnowitz asks how contractors manage the risks that are entailed when they lack a steady employment contract. While analyzing the experiences of professional contractors in the fields of high technology and publishing, Osnowitz provides comparisons to people in similar occupations who are regular employees and people in similar temporary employment relations but in different occupations. Osnowitz’s understanding of how an external labor market works is very original and cutting edge."—Vicki Smith, University of California, Davis, coauthor of The Good Temp
"Debra Osnowitz’s compelling analysis identifies the strategies contract workers use to chart careers, the rewards unique to contract work, and the substantial personal risks involved. By contextualizing contract work in a historical perspective and through analysis of in-depth interviews, Freelancing Expertise reveals contract work to be an alternate to, and consequence of, the limited rewards obtained in traditional career jobs. This is a remarkable contribution to understandings of the new economy."—Stephen Sweet, Ithaca College, author of Changing Contours of Work: Jobs and Opportunities in the New Economy
"Freelancing Expertise is an innovative, accessible, and insightful sociological analysis of the dilemmas contract professionals face and address as they navigate risk and seize opportunities in the open labor market of the new economy. Based on her in-depth interviews and close observation of freelance writers, editors, programmers, engineers, Debra Osnowitz reveals the dilemmas that arise for these contract professionals whose external occupational careers intersect productively but tenuously with the internal operations of their organizational clients. Contract professionals continuously reconcile flexibility and economic security, employment and employability, accountability and marginality in their clients' workplaces, and individual and collective action. Osnowitz empirically unpacks the multifaceted processes of social networking and occupational community-building contract professionals deploy to address dilemmas, minimize risk, and maximize opportunity. Documenting thoroughly the limitations of individual action, market mediation through staffing agencies, and collective occupational advocacy, and noting the organizational rather than freelance focus of labor and employment law, Osnowitz concludes with a compelling call for legal reforms that minimize employment risks and strengthen the safety net and social protections for freelance contract professionals of the new economy. Freelancing Expertise is of interest to scholars of work, employment, and labor, college and graduate students in the social sciences, and practitioners and policymakers who are transforming freelance labor markets and employment relations in the new economy."—Daniel B. Cornfield, Vanderbilt University, Editor of Work and Occupations
About the Author
Debra Osnowitz is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Clark University.
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