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Heroes from Above But Not (Always) from Within? Gig workers’ reactions to the sudden public moralization of their work

Michel Anteby

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ScienceDirect recently published a study co-led by Michel Anteby, Dean’s Research Scholar, on how individuals react to public moralization of their work.

During the pandemic, public narratives transformed many lines of work that were previously uncelebrated into highly moralized “essential” and “heroic” labor. But how do individuals react to the sudden change in public perception of their work and with what consequences?

Drawing on a sample of participants, Anteby and his co-authors found that workers who readily accepted the hero label exhibited less heroic behavior than workers who worried it was an unearned moral credential. Those workers were more likely to embrace extra-role helping and remain committed to moralized aspects of the work. Anteby states, “Our study explores why some workers accept a moralized narrative and others reject or wrestle with it, documenting consequences of workers’ reactions to such narratives, and suggesting how moralized public narrative can backfire”.

Michel Anteby is a Professor of Management & Organizations at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business and (by courtesy) Sociology at Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences. He also co-leads Boston University’s Precarity Lab. His research looks at how individuals relate to their work, their occupations, and the organizations they belong to. He examines more specifically the practices people engage in at work that help them sustain their chosen cultures or identities. In doing so, his research contributes to a better understanding of how these cultures and identities come to be and manifest themselves. Empirical foci for these inquiries have included airport security officers, clinical anatomists, factory craftsmen, ghostwriters, puppeteers, and subway drivers.

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