Brian W. Halpin

Brian Halpin Portrait
256 SS&H


  • Education.
  • PhD. Sociology, University of California, Davis 2016
  • M.A. Sociology, University of California, Davis 2010.
  • B.A. Sociology, University of California, Berkeley 2007.
  • (High Honors, Distinction in General Scholarship)
  • A.A. College of Marin, Kentfield, CA 2005.


Brian Halpin is a Lecturer in the Sociology Department at UC Davis. Brian's research interests focus on low-wage work and workers, low-wage labor markets, and the reproduction of social and economic inequality. Current research explores how low-wage workers weather the precarious economy exploring how they manage risk, uncertainty, and the unpredictable nature of low-wage employment.

Brian is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled: Experiencing the Precarious Economy: Navigating Low-wage Labor Markets after the Great Recession. This manuscript builds on dissertation research illustrating the plight of low-wage workers in the post Great Recession economy tracing their experiences across labor markets, jobs, workforce development agencies, and finally into their homes and lives. This study focuses on the diversity of situations in which low-wage workers labor and struggle and highlights how three groups of very different low-wage workers navigate precarity under different structural conditions. The power and purpose of this project is to give the reader a in-depth, fine-grained, and vivid portrayal of what people struggle with, how they cope, how they strategize, and in the final analysis how they experience the contemporary economy of risk, uncertainty, and insecurity.

Research Focus

Work, Labor, Labor Markets, Sociological Theory, Economic Sociology, Political Sociology, Ethnography

Qualifying Exam: Sociology of Labor and Work and Political Economy Committee: Fred Block (chair), Vicki Smith, Luis Guarnizo, Chris Benner (UC Santa Cruz), Kim Voss (UC Berkeley)

Dissertation: "Employment-Management Work: Third Wave Marketization and the Commodification of Labor" Committee: Vicki Smith (Chair), Fred Block, Chris Benner

Faced with a turbulent economy, how do low-wage workers cope with unpredictability, risk, and precarity and defend themselves against economic insecurity? Using a Polanyian framework and the concept of labor as a fictitious commodity, I argue for the concept of employment-management work as a fundamental experience of work under capitalism. In building the significance of this argument, I examine three theoretically relevant cases: first- generation Latino immigrants, unemployed workers who use state-sponsored One-Stop Job Centers, and low-wage unionized public employees. Using case study logic, I extend and build a theory of 21st century precariousness, illustrating how workers across three institutional and organizational domains cope and come to grips with an increasingly precarious labor market.


2017 "Employment Management Work: A Case Study and Theoretical Framework" (With Vicki Smith) Work and Occupations. DOI: 10.1177/0730888417720714

2015 "Subject To Change Without Notice: Mock Schedules and Flexible Employment in the United States." Social Problems. 62(3): 419-438.

  • Distinguished Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association, Labor and Labor Movements Section

2014 (with Vicki Smith) “Low-wage Work Uncertainty often Traps Low-wage Workers.” Policy Brief, UC Davis Center for Poverty Research.

  • This research was featured on Capitol Public Radio (Insight), Talk 650 KSTE, in the Sacramento Bee, Merced Sun-Star, Central Valley Business Times, Daily Democrat, and on websites and blogs, including Bloomberg Businessweek, World News Network, Human Resource Executive Online, California Department of Housing and Community Development,, and Wopular.

2013 “Harry Braverman” and “Game Playing.” Pp. 44-46 and 311-312 in Sociology of Work: An Encyclopedia. Vicki Smith (ed.). Sage.


Brian Halpin teaches classes on the Sociology of Work and Employment, the Sociology of Labor and Employment (past, present, and future of the U.S. Labor Movement), Corporations and Society, Classical Sociological Theory, and Social Problems.


2016 Distinguished Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association, Labor and Labor Movements Section ("Subject to Change Without Notice")

2015 Outstanding Graduate Student Teaching Award, UC Davis

2015 2015-2016 Provost's Dissertation Year Fellowship in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, UC Davis

2012 Graduate Student Research Fellowship (with Vicki Smith), Center for Poverty Research, UC Davis. Policy brief from our research on low-wage workers:

2011 Mayhew Award for Best Qualifying Paper, Department of Sociology, UC Davis