Frenette, Alexandre


The Chosen, the Choosers, and the Others: How Unpaid Internships Lengthen the School-to-Work Transition and Reproduce Inequality

The transition from school-to-work has long been uncertain for students who do not attend college, but it is becoming increasingly problematic even for graduates from four-year institutions. A significant portion of college graduates do not find “career-oriented” employment shortly after graduation. Simultaneously, internships have become a prevalent strategy to train young workers in the United States, often as part of postsecondary education. Utilizing an interactionist approach, I focus on a major host of intern labor—the music industry—as a case study to investigate whether and how internships affect the education-to-employment transition. Based on participant observation at music industry companies and semi-structured interviews with interns, employees, and college personnel, I argue that interns perform what I call provisional labor. Internships are provisional, as in temporary, conditional, and ambiguous. I show how the normalization of indefinite unpaid work and the addition of pseudo-formal credentials as a pre-requisite for entry extend the transition to employment and exacerbate inequality.

Part of Overworked and Underpaid



Alexandre Frenette (Graduate Center, CUNY)

Alexandre Frenette specializes in the study of work, creative industries and youth labor markets. He earned his PhD in sociology at the Graduate Center, the City University of New York (CUNY) in 2014 and is currently an adjunct lecturer at John Jay College. His dissertation, “The Intern Economy: Laboring to Learn in the Music Industry,” is an ethnographic study of early careers within the music industry.

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