15 Dec 2023

New Faculty Profiles: Kwelina Thompson


HBS faculty comprises more than 300 scholars and practitioners who bring leading-edge research, extensive experience, and deep insights into the classroom, to organizations, and to leaders across the globe. We asked new faculty at HBS about their background, their new roles, and their interests.

Kwelina Thompson, Harvard Newcomen fellow, General Management

What is your educational background?
I received my undergraduate degree in economics from Harvard College and recently completed my Ph.D. from Cornell University with a focus on labor policy and management in the twentieth century.

What’s your area of research and what led you to it?
My research focuses on technological change and the shifting boundaries of power and authority in the workplace. I look at the ways the introduction of new technologies reordered the boundaries of belonging and status in the “office of the future,” a term that sounds recent but has been with us for decades. Drawing on archival analysis, I chart how older firms actively constructed a new image of the “office of the future” and how this image changed over time depending on the social context. Using interview analysis, I also trace how women in the office adapted to this shifting era of knowledge-based work. For women, utilizing technology became a pathway to accessing an emerging but elusive authority in the workplace. For those women at lower rungs of the social ladder, new technologies, feminism, and occupational dynamics became especially challenging knots to untangle.

As a separate stream of research, I am also co-authoring a book forthcoming with MIT Press about the history of e-commerce. This project explains the political ecosystems that nurtured the rise of digital firms and the ways brick and mortar firms adapted to the internet. We also highlight the decisions and responses made by entrepreneurs during a crucial stage in technological advancement and the challenge of engendering trust in new systems. At its core, my scholarship is driven by a deep curiosity about the ways we make sense of technology, our institutions, and their relationship to society.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an academic?
I enjoyed working in arts and endowment management before I started graduate school. The arts are incredibly important to me as a component of a broad education. If I weren’t an academic, I would be in arts management.

Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, but my family is from Louisiana.

What is something you like to do outside of your academic work?
I really enjoy visiting art museums, galleries, and attending theatre performances. I’m excited to return to some of my favorite museums in Boston and Cambridge and to catch a few shows at A.R.T.

What’s your favorite book, movie, or piece of art?
“El Jaleo” by John Singer Sargent is one of my favorite pieces of art. It’s at the Gardner and is just jaw-dropping. As for books, all of Zadie Smith’s books are revelations but Swing Time is a particular favorite.

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