Patrick Sheehan is a PhD candidate in the department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. He is an ethnographer and economic sociologist who studies work and organizations with a particular focus on the meanings of work for professionals.
His research explains how white-collar workers come to understand what constitutes a “good” job and career, why they develop such strong commitments to work, and how they navigate uncertainties throughout their careers. He uses ethnographic and interview data to access the cultural currents, emotions, and shared narratives that these workers draw on to make sense of economic life. This approach illuminates cultural mechanisms of inequality production and helps to connect intimate feelings about work to larger trends in political economy.
Patrick is currently working on two research projects. The first is a study of organizational culture in tech “start-ups.” Over the last decade, the tech industry has moved to center stage in the American economy, attracting massive infusions of venture capital and recruiting an increasing number of graduates from the nation’s most prestigious universities. What makes the tech industry so attractive to workers, to investors, and to the broader public? Why do tech companies (and start-ups in particular) almost exclusively employ workers in their 20s and 30s? And what can the rise of this industry tell us about contemporary capitalism?
Patrick draws on ethnographic fieldwork as an employee in a San Francisco-based start-up and in-depth interviews with tech workers, managers, and founders to unpack answers to these questions and more. One paper from this project explains how organizational culture legitimizes extreme commitments to work in start-ups. This paper argues that these organizations successfully create and leverage a sense of secular enchantment about the firm’s mission that generates intensive emotional commitments from employees. A second paper from this project theorizes explains how tech companies maintain such a young labor force; the paper theorizes the mechanics of an organizational age regime and draws implications for understanding aging within the labor market.
Patrick’s second project studies the rise of self-styled “career coaches.” This project studies career coaches as a piece of the broader popularization of un-credentialed “lay-experts” in areas ranging from personal finances to health and wellness. This phenomenon challenges social scientists to rethink the meaning of “expertise” today. Whereas established theory explains expertise as the result of formal professionalization, this project finds that coaches forego this route and instead build their credibility in direct relationships with clients, using authenticity, emotional disclosure, and personal testimony as relational tools. I argue that this alternative tack towards expertise is gaining popularity today as trust in a wide swath of traditional institutions erode.
His academic research has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, Annual Review of Sociology, and Work & Occupations and has won awards from the ASA section on Organizations, Occupations, and Work, the section on Economic Sociology, and the section on the Sociology of Culture. He also regularly writes for public outlets such as Jacobin Magazine, In These Times, and Public Seminar.
Patrick’s research is funded by the Graduate Continuing Fellowship at UT Austin and, during the summer of 2022, he is a Visiting Scholar in the Economic Sociology research group at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Society in Cologne, Germany.
Before graduate school, Patrick taught 2nd grade in Detroit, Michigan, and worked as an labor organizer for the United Teachers Los Angeles. He holds a BA from the University for California, Santa Barbara.
You can find Patrick’s CV in the navigation bar on the left side.
You can contact Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org