Recent PhDs in Socio-Economics: New Research Paths

Emerging scholars—including graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and junior faculty—are critical members of the SASE community, building on existing theories and identifying the subjects that will shape the field in years to come. We asked some recent graduates to share summaries of the dissertation work with SASE readers.  

How Humanitarian Relief “Works”: International Aid Organizations and Local Labor in Crisis Contexts

Patricia Ward, PhD in Sociology, Boston University

This dissertation explores the changing organization of work in the transnational humanitarian aid sector. I specifically examine aid localization: a sector-wide strategy to increase the role of local labor in humanitarian aid projects. Scholarship on aid and development has sought to explain the factors and processes that create and reproduce political, social, and economic inequalities between and within societies, but has yet to fully grapple with the role of the aid sector itself in this same regard. I therefore ask in this project: What does the aid sector’s localization look like in practice? What are the effects of localization on local labor? To answer these questions, I conducted a qualitative study of aid operations in Jordan, a major global aid hub. I find that localization creates a particular structure of work in which tasks, resources, and expectations are formally and informally organized and premised upon particular meanings associated with “the local” as a category. This structure subsequently creates new forms of precarious labor and challenging work conditions for national employees under the framing of humanitarian aid, and also shapes how workers make sense of their own positions within the aid labor hierarchy. These effects are indicative of the tensions and contradictions embedded in conceptualizations of “the local” in the aid sector. It is these tensions and ambiguities that subsequently become sources of productivity for aid employers: a space to generate new forms and relations of work that ensure successful project outcomes. I subsequently contend that localization ruptures and reinscribes Global North-Global South inequalities through ambivalent constructions of who local workers are, and how they should and can provide value to their organizations.

Sovereign Debt Restructuring: The Negotiations between Argentine Governments and Private Creditors (2003-2016)

Emilia Val, PhD in Sociology, Universidad Nacional de San Martin, IDAES

The recent restructuring of Argentina’s debt is one of the most complex, lengthy, and confrontational episodes of sovereign negotiation in history, and has generated important and heated debates among academic, economic, legal, and political actors at the local and global level. This dissertation studies the resolution of Argentina’s 2001 sovereign default. More specifically, it analyzes the negotiations over the defaulted public liabilities across several stages between 2003 and 2016, identifying its dynamics and results based on the consideration of the strategies of the actors involved: the different groups of private creditors and the Argentine governments.

This investigation falls within the fields of economic sociology and international political economy and uses a conceptual perspective based on the strategic approach of international economic negotiations theory. From this viewpoint, the dynamics of the negotiation, the possibility of delimiting stages in the period, and the results in each of these depend on the strategies deployed by the negotiators, as well as the negotiating position and styles of negotiation of the parties, acting simultaneously in the domestic and international levels. The partial results of each stage, in turn, condition subsequent negotiations, by influencing the strategies and dynamics of following ones.

The research investigates the negotiations in relation to three central problematic nuclei, which had different dynamics. The first is the 2005 debt exchange under the Kichner administration, in which the strategies of both parties resulted in a dynamic of confrontation that was resolved in a distribution of costs in favor of the government. Second, the 2010 swap during the first government of Cristina Fernández, when collaboration between the parties took place, guided by objectives of mutual benefit. Third, the conflict with the vulture funds, which began in the second presidency of Ms. Fernández and was ended by Mauricio Macri in 2016. Although the dispute began with an open confrontation between the parties as a result of distributive strategies based on controversial judicial decisions, it culminated in a dynamic of domination where hedge funds prevailed over the Macri administration. The resolution of the conflict allowed the former to achieve extraordinary profits, and reopened the access to international debt markets for Argentina, which was the key to sustaining Macri´s macroeconomic model.

The analysis draws on multiple data sources, using a methodological design that combined data collection and analysis techniques from both quantitative and qualitative methods, such as documentary, content, and descriptive statistical analysis.

Conduire numériquement les conduites: économie comportementale, objets connectés et prévention dans l’assurance privée française.

Governing Conduct Digitally: Behavioral Economics, IoT and Prevention in French Private Insurance

Hugo Jeanningros, PhD in Sociology, Sorbonne Université

Insurance is a mathematical relationship created between individuals and groups, between risk and uncertainty. Insurance’s ability to shape and distribute risks and responsibilities relies on the exploitation of multiple sources of data, such as mortality tables, disease incidence, or traffic accident records. As Big Data, the Internet of Things, and insurance collide, new sources of data can be used to reshape the relationship between the insured and the insurer. Among these new practices, behavior-based insurance, which builds on the tracking and valuation of the insured’s daily behavioral data, provides an interesting case for investigating the governing of conduct by digital means. 

Drawing on interviews conducted with insurance professionals and regulators, document analysis, and professional meeting observations, this thesis mobilizes socio-economic and STS theoretical frameworks to understand how and why insurance practices—traditionally based on the law of large numbers and normal distributions—are incorporating digital devices that aim to analyze, value, and modify individuals’ everyday behavior. By analyzing the insurance industry’s practices allows the research to go beyond the hypes and fears surrounding these products and their possible effects on solidarity mechanisms and privacy.

The study of the development and implementation of health and car behavior-based insurance products shows an important use of behavioral economics as a framework for analyzing clients’ daily behaviors, understood as a succession of individual choices. On this basis, the valuation of behavioral data and their incorporation into reward systems are designed to make behaviors manageable. However, a series of issues makes the governing of conduct difficult to enforce in practice, including the poaching practices of the sensors by the insured, the lack of change in long-term daily habits, and the moral rejection of products considered intrusive. Furthermore, this thesis shows that changing individuals’ behavior is not the only aim of these devices. They also offer original answers to classical insurance-related issues, such as risk selection and fraud control. More importantly, the products studied function as market devices, used to ensure client capture and market attachment in a French insurance market characterized by a low product differentiation.

Have you finished your PhD project? Is the end in sight? Do you want the world to know about your research? The SASE newsletter is looking for presentations of finished, or nearly finished, PhD projects on socio-economic topics. Let us know about the theoretical insights and empirical results that have resulted from those years of hard work. Wherever you come from or whatever your topic, as long as it is related to socio-economics, we would love to hear from you. Send us an abstract of approximately 400 words sketching the research and results, and we will feature it in the newsletter (space permitting).

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This article is taken from the SASE Summer Newsletter 2020. Click here to go back to the contents.