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Alexandre Frenette

Assistant Professor of Sociology

How do people build careers and how do employers choose between applicants in our hyper-credentialed society?

My research draws on intersecting interests in arts and culture, work and occupations, and social inequality. Specifically, I use mixed-methods to study how workers attempt to launch and sustain careers in the precarious economy using the cultural and creative industries as a case study. Drawing on fieldwork in the music industry, I am currently working on a monograph about the challenges and the promise of internships as part of higher education, tentatively titled The Intern Economy (under contract, Princeton University Press). Given the recent rise of credential inflation and youth unemployment, I develop the concept of “provisional labor” to scrutinize the increasingly common, indefinite periods of cheap or unpaid work people must undertake to establish careers. In the process, I uncover how the normalization of unpaid labor limits diversity and exacerbates socioeconomic inequality in the workplace.

With support from the National Endowment for the Arts, I am also analyzing data on the educational experiences and work lives of over 200,000 arts graduates (broadly speaking, including media, fine arts, and design alumni) to better understand the often-unequal career trajectories of arts graduates (by class, race/ethnicity, gender, and age). In particular, my research examines how artists and other cultural workers must increasingly hold multiple jobs, work as independent contractors, and flexibly deploy their talents across sectors.