Dana Tholen, M.A.

Dana Tholen has been research fellow at the Chair of Sociology - Transnationalisation, Migration and Work since October 2022. She researches and teaches at the interface of sociology of labour and migration on the topics of transnational labour markets, migrant labour and the relationship between trade unions and migration. In doing so, she works primarily with qualitative social research methods. Specifically, she is interested in the conditions of migrant labour between border regime and precarization in Germany and the possibilities of unionization in migrant-dominated sectors. Her dissertation examines working conditions in the courier, express and parcel delivery sector and explores strategies and perspectives of union organizing efforts there.

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Research Fellow | Sociology / Transnationalization, Migration and Work

Email-icon dana.tholen[at] 

Contact-book-line-icon Ruhr-Universität Bochum | Faculty of Social Science | Building GD E1-317 - Technical No. 74 | D-44780 Bochum | Phone: +49 (0)234 / 32-24067

Peoples-group-icon Office hours: appointment via e-mail, in presence or by zoom, building GD E1-311

  • Since July 2023, Ph.D. candidate at the chair of Sociology / Transnationalisation, Migration and Work.
  • 2019 – 2022 Master's Programme Social Sciences, TU Braunschweig
  • 2018 Semester abroad at the Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago de Chile
  • 2015 – 2019 Bachelor's Programme Integrated Social Sciences, TU Braunschweig

  • Since 10/2022 Research Fellow at the Chair of Sociology – Transnationalization, Migration and Work at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Chair holder Prof. Dr. Margit Fauser
  • 2021 – 2022 Student assistant at the Chair of Sociology – Work and Organization, TU Braunschweig
  • 2019 – 2020 Student assistant in the project "QuartierMobil" at the Chair of Comparative Politics and Policy Analysis, TU Braunschweig
  • 2016 – 2017 Student assistant at the Chair of Comparative Politics and Policy Analysis, TU Braunschweig

Organizing the Unorganizable?

Trade Union Organizing Strategies and Migrant Agency in the Context of Fragmentation and Precarization in the Courier, Express and Parcel Delivery Industry

The courier, express and parcel delivery industry can be seen as exemplary regarding dynamics and competitiveness of e-commerce industries (the industry association counted 4.15 billion parcels shipped in Germany in 2022, an increase of 14% compared to pre-pandemic times, BIEK 2023). On the other hand, it is also an example for the hardships that are evident in the working conditions of these industries: from precarious employment relationships such as subcontracting and solo self-employment, to digital control mechanisms, to low pay and hard physical labor, which is mostly performed by migrant workers. At the same time, unionization is especially challenging due to the fragmented nature of the industry, and the level of organization is, in correspondence, low.

In her dissertation, Dana Tholen takes a look at both the perspective of the largely migrant employees and that of the trade unions. She asks about the agency of employees in the context of precarious working and living conditions and the resulting conditions for (union) organizing in the sector. Her thesis is that the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion to which migrant workers are subject in German (labor) society also determine their power resources in the labor process and thus their chances of organizing successfully. How migrant workers and trade unions deal with this situation and which practices and strategies of resilience, resistance and organizing they develop is the research interest of this thesis.

To explore these questions, Dana Tholen relies on methods of reconstructive qualitative social research, such as document analysis, problem-centered interviews and narrative interviews with experts. The approach is based on grounded theory methodology in order to systematically uncover the connections and interpretations of migrant and trade union perspectives in an understudied field.