PhD Jessie Gevaert

Research project: PhD Jessie Gevaert

‘Self Inc.’ An in-depth sociological inquiry into the mental well-being of the solo self-employed.



Recently, governments increasingly encourage workers to incarnate the ideal of the entrepreneurial self – i.e. to live a professional life in accordance with a heroic depiction of ‘the entrepreneur’, which is presumed to lead to personal and professional success. This new work orientation coincides with post-Fordist socio-economic reforms and the rise of neo-liberalism. On the labour market, these socio-economic reforms often imply a structural transformation of previously stable, well-protected collective employment relations into more individualized employment relations, often involving flexible or non-standard forms of employment. Increasingly, self-employment has become such a flexibility strategy, which allow employers to benefit from ‘on-demand specialized skills’ without bearing the financial risk of wage-employment. Solo self-employment (i.e. self-employed without employees) especially has become an interesting group within these transformations, showing to be both an example of dynamic, economic growth and positive labour market effects, and an example of precarious work and a lack of secure dependent jobs in the labour market. In addition, the degree of pervasiveness of all above-mentioned transformations and self-employment presenting itself as a viable flexibility option also depend on local institutional regulatory configurations or entrepreneurial ecosystems (i.e. socio-cultural, institutional and material conditions influencing the self-employed at country-level). Based on all of the above, the objective of this PhD-research becomes two-fold:
1) I aim to address psychosocial job quality as the main focus for seeking explanations in health/well-being differences among the self-employed in Europe, and in comparison, with wage earners.
2) I aim to understand the mental well-being of solo self-employed in specific, by revealing narratives of expectations and lived experiences related to entrepreneurship. To meet the objectives of this study, I will apply a mixed-methods approach. On one hand, hypotheses regarding the relations between individual-level psychosocial job quality, country-level entrepreneurial climate and health outcomes will be tested in a uniquely-suited cross-national database (European Working Conditions Survey, 2015), providing plenty of information on self-employment. On the other hand, I will reveal narratives of expectations and actual lived experiences by applying an ethnographic, longitudinal research design based on data collection through participant observation, repeated in-depth interviews, and diary entries.