[International Scholar] Investigating Social Inequality in the Global Era: Dr. Laura Wiesböck from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna
Spring has silently sprung at NTU. At the College of Social Sciences, students and faculty gather to learn about research findings from a renowned sociology scholar. More than a regular academic seminar, the content for discussion is meticulously curated with deep insights into global issues of social inequality. This scholar, who is committed to unraveling issues of social inequality across all walks of life, is Dr. Laura Wiesböck.
Combining Theoretical and Empirical Research on Sociological Topics
Laura is actually one of the many visiting scholars at NTU every year to advance academic exchange and disseminate their research findings. Her research project “GigClean- working realities of gig based female cleaners in private households in Vienna” analyzes domestic cleaners and their experiences and relationships with clients and digital gig economy platforms. By interviewing several household laborers, Laura delves deeply into the axes of inequality and power that make the home an intensely political site of employment. Thereby she discovered that they often face sexual and verbal harassment from male customers.
In recent years, platform-mediated work has been on a rise. While most studies on the gig-economy focus on male-dominated service sectors such as ride-hailing or food delivery, digitally intermediated domestic services have received little attention so far. Private household cleaners are a particularly vulnerable group as they face intersecting inequalities based on gender, class, education, immigration status or ascribed ethnicity. Many work through the black market in “invisible” private spaces without social security. Considering that externalized reproductive work in society is mainly provided by marginalized women, this research gap reflects a systemic gender bias.
A Scholar Committed to Social Equality
In addition to academic publications, Laura regularly shares her research findings and perspectives through media interviews for example with Associated Press, Libération and DIE ZEIT, personal social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, and public lectures at a variety of cultural and political events including the Diagonale Film Festival and Austrian Parliament. She was also recently featured in the documentary Feminism WTF directed by Katharina Mückstein released in cinemas on March 31. These public engagements enable Laura to continually raise awareness about global issues of social inequality, advocate for gender equality and put attention to marginalized societal groups.
Engaging in Academic and Cultural Exchange at NTU
Prior to this trip, Laura was relatively unfamiliar with NTU. Inspired by the research of NTU’s College of Social Sciences, especially that of Professors Pei-Chia Lan and Lake Lui, she traveled more than 9,000 kilometers to Taiwan. With a steadfast passion for sociology, Laura is convinced that it is crucial to link scientific inquiry with the fields of politics and practice. For this reason, NTU Department of Sociology is a very suitable place for her as it holds a profound commitment to social equality and the distribution of justice.
Laura chose to visit Taiwan because it is a democratic country led by a woman president, as well as being at the forefront of LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality in the Asia-Pacific region. This makes Taiwan a natural fit for a scholar conducting research in the field of gender and social inequality. As she normally resides in Europe, Laura has discovered different sides and perspectives to these issues during her time in Taiwan. Through personal experience of a different cultural framework, Laura deepened her understanding of outsourced domestic cleaning as a global phenomenon embedded in capitalist societies with social inequalities specific to each region.
Savory local food, convenient public transportation, cleanliness, and social etiquette have Laura left with a strong impression of Taiwan. “I would like to revisit NTU and Taiwan in the future. There is only so much more to explore and experience in the rich cultural, historical, and natural landscape of Taiwan” she said. Even though Laura only spent about a month visiting NTU, she was enthralled by the natural scenes on campus, and even the colorful construction sites by the campus’ main entrance as well as the all-gender restrooms. For her, the campus comprises both beautiful flora and fauna as well as representations of commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion.
Through our informative interview with Laura, we’ve come to realize that social inequalities are not so much rooted in the lack of individual efforts as to the societal structures. Access to resources, opportunities and representations are systematically distributed unevenly leaving certain groups disadvantaged, marginalized and simply not heard. By revealing the facts and sources behind social inequality, scholars like Laura continue to promote equality in society, transcending constructed categorizations and national boundaries.