Podcast, VideoDecember 5 2018

Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary

Louis Hyman

Databite No. 116

Why has work become insecure? Historian Louis Hyman discusses the surprising origins of the “gig economy.”



Hyman’s latest book Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary tracks the transformation of an ethos that favored long-term investment in work (and workers) to one promoting short-term returns. A series of deliberate decisions preceded the digital revolution, setting off the collapse of the postwar institutions that insulated us from volatility including big unions, big corporations, and powerful regulators.

Through the experiences of those on the inside–consultants and executives, temps and office workers, line workers and migrant laborers–Temp shows how the American Dream was unmade.

Data & Society’s Labor Engagement Lead Aiha Nguyen and Researcher Alex Rosenblat join Hyman in conversation.

Louis Hyman is a historian of work and business at the ILR School of Cornell University, where he also directs the Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. In addition to Temp, the book we’re here to learn more about tonight, he has published two books on the history of personal debt (Debtor Nation and Borrow). Originally from Baltimore, Hyman received a BA in history and mathematics from Columbia University. A former Fulbright scholar and McKinsey associate, he received his PhD in American history from Harvard University. He is a founding editor of the Columbia Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism book series from Columbia University Press and the director of the History of Capitalism Summer Camp.

Alex Rosenblat is a technology ethnographer. A researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute, she holds an MA in sociology from Queen’s University and a BA in history from McGill University. Rosenblat’s writing has appeared in media outlets such as The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, Slate, and Fast Company. Her research has received attention worldwide and has been covered in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, MIT Technology Review, WIRED, New Scientist, and The Guardian. Many scholarly and professional publications have also published her prizewinning work, including the International Journal of Communication and the Columbia Law Review.

Aiha Nguyen is Project Lead of the Social Instabilities in Labor Futures Initiative. The Labor Futures Initiative seeks to better understand emergent disruptions in the labor force as a result of data-centric technological development, and create new frames for understanding these disruptions through evidence-based research and collaboration with stakeholders. Aiha leads the work of the initiative including research, field building, and collaborating with stakeholders and decisionmakers to shift the debate towards worker-centered discussions. Aiha has over a decade of experience in advocacy, research, policy, and organizing. Prior to joining Data & Society, she worked to raise standards for retail workers and addressed issues of food access at the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). Aiha received her masters in Urban Planning from UCLA and has authored several reports, including an analysis of outsourced passenger service work at LAX; impact of automated self-checkout systems on public safety and jobs; and a baselines study of Orange County’s philanthropic community.

About Databites

Data & Society’s “Databites” speaker series presents timely conversations about the purpose and power of technology, bridging our interdisciplinary research with broader public conversations about the societal implications of data and automation.